Say what you will about international law and international organizations, but it is undoubtedly a good thing that Charles Taylor, the murderous former dictator of Liberia, was just sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He thus becomes the first head of state convicted of crimes by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials of the post-World War II era.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. The New York Times sums up his gruesome record by noting that he was found guilty “of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his part in fomenting mass brutality that included murder, rape, the use of child soldiers, the mutilation of thousands of civilians, and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition.”
Sure, it’s possible to criticize the international court for Sierra Leone, or the one for the former Yugoslavia, on the grounds that they are slow and unwieldy in delivering justice. And, sure, the international legal system theoretically could be abused to generate politically motivated indictments of Israeli or American generals and politicians—but so far that’s been more of a problem in national courts such as the Turkish court, which just issued indictments against various Israeli soldiers. By contrast, international courts are delivering justice at the end of the day for at least some war criminals. That’s more than national courts can say.
Far from this being an infringement on individual liberty, as so many conservative critics of the UN fear, this is actually a great enhancement of liberty by delivering justice for the victims of criminal states. Perhaps if such trials become a regular feature of the international community, then in the future dictators may actually think twice before committing fresh atrocities.