This has been a bad week for deposed despots.
First Charles Taylor got 50 years for his crimes against Sierra Leone:
In a landmark ruling by the Special Court on Sierra Leone last month, Taylor became the first former head of state since the aftermath of World War II to be convicted. The 64-year-old Taylor was found guilty on 11 counts of aiding and abetting the Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, who murdered and mutilated tens of thousands of people during this country’s 11-year brutal civil war which ended in 2002.
Then Hosni Mubarak got his comeuppance:
Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister were sentenced to life in prison Saturday for complicity in the killing of protesters during the 2011 winter revolt that turned once-untouchable despots into defendants.
Now, neither of them was lynched like Saddam or Gaddafy, but by the same token, there is now a pretty clear pattern in play. If you are a dictator and you either lose power or leave power under pressure, you can expect to either be killed or end up in jail. This is not a good precedent if you are hoping to encourage peaceful change.
What happened to all these men, these often-brutal dictators, certainly qualifies as “justice” in a sense. And it unquestionably reinforces norms about legitimate state conduct. But by the same token, while the certainty of punishment may deter future brutality, it also means that existing despots, particularly those with blood on their hands are going to be less likely to go without a fight. I guarantee this verdict is being considered closely in Syria, for instance, and complicated the potential for change there.