Matthew Yglesias links to this post by Timothy Burke in which Burke, using Robert Mugabe's hanging on argues convincingly against the argument that the risk of prosecution can only prevent the likelihood of dictators leaving office voluntarily. In Yglesias' comments section I make the following points:
What has always bothered me about the argument that serial human rights abusers like Pinochet should be guaranteed no prosecution because they may not be willing to cede power are two things:
- What does one tell subsequent dictators: it was okay to grant dictator A amnesty in return for stepping down, but not acceptable for you to get an amnesty?
- It ignores the deterrent effect the proponents claim that it has. To wit, if one believes that a.) Mugabe's possible prosecution might prevent him from leaving office, then one should acknowledge that b.) the threat of prosecution could very well be a preventative against human rights abuses. I cannot recall anyone accepting both a.) and b.).
Personally, I don't believe that the threat of prosecution prevents anyone from leaving office, nor do I believe that the threat of prosecution - at its current weak stage - has a deterrent effect upon the commission of human rights abuses. I do believe if more teeth were put into the possibility of prosecution, it could have a deterrent effect.
I might also add that using Pinochet as an example is more likely to display the person making the argument's ignorance of Pinochet's leaving office. Pinochet left office kicking and screaming. On the night of the plebiscite that removed him, he was convinced that he could still remain in office. So convinced, in fact, that in spite of the evidence indicating that he had lost the plebiscite, he expressed his intentions to unleash troops on the street. The rest of the junta, led by General Matthei, the head of the air force, all told him that they would not agree to it. Some months later, Pinochet, in a speech made reference to the plebiscite and commented that"Don't forget that in the history of the world, there was a plebiscite, in which Christ and Barabbas were being judged, and the people chose Barabbas."
Another point worth making is how Pinochet, when he was still commander of the military, sent troops out on the street - purely as a show of force - when his son and some military officers were being investigated for financial misdoings that had nothing to do with his human rights record. The investigation was quickly scuttled.
In addition, when Argentina's junta finally left power, there followed a series of revolts conducted by soldiers called the carapintadas whenever there were investigations of the military's record during the Dirty War. This is not a negotiated solution to leaving office. This was an attempt at extorting an amnesty.