Taylor, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Saddam, Saleh and Milosevic were all once in similar positions to Assad. Zaid Belbagi looks at their downfalls, and sees which departure could apply to the Syrian ruler.
Beyond the universe of Tehran and Beijing the international community is of the consensus that the Ophthalmologist-turned-butcher, President Bashar Al Assad, must go. However little thought has been given to how his rule will come to an end. Will it be a scramble to load riches on to a private jet en route to a palatial retirement somewhere in the Gulf? Or will the International Criminal Court have the chance to try and sentence the Levant’s answer to Adolf Hitler?
1 À la Taylor
Charles Taylor appeared on TV in 2003 to the famous last words of ‘I’ll be back’. In fact he never did go back to Liberia. Rather, after a five-year painstakingly long judicial process he was recently convicted and duly sentenced by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) at The Hague. In Assad’s case, similar proceedings would be a just and broadly acceptable outcome for the Syrian people and the international community. The escalation of violence in Syria and the blatant war crimes that have been committed render an exit without judicial consequence impossible.
2 À la Ben Ali
Mrs. Assad’s penchant for Harrods Online and her recent Vogue magazine debacle suggest she suffers from the all-too-common venal tendencies of a dictator’s loved one. The exit of the Tunisian President was cushioned with the theft of some £36 million worth of gold and cash by his wife. Ben Ali, now in and out of a coma somewhere in a villa on the Red Sea, has not answered for any of the violence committed under his name. However, in the case of Assad the GCC’s total vehement opposition to him makes any offer of sanctuary highly unlikely. The rumoured home built for him in Qatar offered during the calmer situation of 18 months ago now seems a distant offer of diplomatic good will. The bigger question, therefore, is would North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran or any other in the list of rogue republics offer sanctuary to a fleeing Assad? If this is the case, how will the international community respond?
3 À la Gadaffi
The violent surmise of the Libyan leader was synonymous with his decades of repressive rule. Similar to Assad in attempting to hang-on to power for too long, Gadaffi became first a fugitive, then ultimately a gory YouTube sensation in his final moments. Through similarly exacerbating civilian calls for change by using disproportionate air power to conduct mass killing, Assad stands to suffer the same fate. Should he continue to bunker himself-in, the rebels, already fighting in Damascus, will eventually reach the confines of the Tishreen Palace and take out their bloody revenge to be recorded on camera phone.
4 À la Saddam
The Iraqi dictator’s fall, which arguably was a long-term cause in the current overhaul of Arab politics, illustrated the imperative of conducting fair judicial proceedings. Saddam had to answer for grievous crimes against his own people, this is undisputed. The subsequent show trial that took place after his capture denied many afflicted Iraqis judicial impartiality and the due process needed to make Saddam answer to the long list of crimes committed in his name. In Assad’s case, should the West continue not to intervene there is every chance that a rogue court could embark on a similar course on his capture. This would prove to be a similar failure for the ICC.
5 À la Saleh
After a violent crackdown on the Yemeni people and failed attempts to secure his departure, President Saleh was offered safe sanctuary though a GCC-sponsored exit plan. Assad’s full-scale atrocities against his people make this scenario unworkable. Assad must face justice; such an escape plan would be a further crime against the Syrian people.
6 À la Milosevic
There is no doubt that the unfinished trial of Milosevic denied his victims justice. The protracted proceedings allowed Milosevic to make a mockery of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and lessons must be learnt from this process. Where Taylor’s trial ended in sentencing, Milosevic’s repeated efforts to delay this were eventually successful when he died in custody. This experience highlighted the importance of using the institutions of international justice more efficiently so as to both right wrongs and to build the international stature of courts like the ICC in putting evil men behind bars.
It remains unclear how the Syrian conflict will end. Ideally and theoretically it would be best that a deposed Assad is brought to the ICC to answer for his crimes. So far the conflicts investigated by the ICC have been in Africa; Assad’s trial would set a precedent that Arab leaders no longer enjoy impunity. The experiences of the last decade show how such justice can be administered. It is worth noting though that often concerning the downfall of such men, ‘evil begets evil’ and where the international community stalls, an armed mob will have their recompense, through less savoury means.
Assad has to go, but he must go in handcuffs.