Sunday, December 11, 2011

Presidents in Prison

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is being flown from Paris to Panama today, leaving a French prison for a twenty-year prison sentence back home.  For the last twenty-two years, since his capture by the U.S. military forces that invaded Panama in what was called Operation Just Cause, Noriega has been imprisoned--first in the United States where he was convicted on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering, and racketeering, then in France where he was convicted for money laundering.  In Panama, Noriega has been convicted on various human rights charges stemming from murders of political opponents committed during the six years he ruled Panama.

Noriega is not the only former leader in prison.  Former Liberian president Charles Taylor has been incarcerated at The Hague since 2006 when he was surrendered to the Special Court for Sierra Leone by the Liberian government headed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female leader in Africa.  (Sirleaf was one of three women awarded the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in Stockholm.)  Taylor is awaiting the Court's verdict in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by forces under his control in Sierra Leone's civil war.

Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo was turned over to the International Criminal Court by the new government of Ivory Coast two weeks ago.  He is now awaiting trial in The Hague.

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president ousted by protesters earlier this year, is on trial on a variety of charges including corruption and ordering the killing of protesters.  Due to health problems, including stomach cancer, the 83-year-old Mubarak has been detained in a military hospital in Cairo.  His trial, currently on hold, is scheduled to resume on December 28.

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the former president of Tunisia who was ousted in the first wave of the Arab Spring protests, has thus far avoided prison.  However, he has been convicted in absentia of corruption and drug possession.  He and his wife escaped during Tunisia's revolution to Saudi Arabia where they remain in spite of a Tunisian extradition request.

On Wednesday of last week, former Israeli president Moshe Katsav entered prison to begin serving a seven-year sentence for rape.  (The presidency in Israel, it should be noted, is a largely ceremonial office.)  Although Katsav maintains his innocence, his conviction was affirmed by a three-judge panel of Israel's Supreme Court.

Current president of Sudan Omar al-Bashir is currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court. for crimes related to the Darfur genocide.  He, however, remains in office.

Of course, the imprisonment of former leaders is not always a good thing.  In October, former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison on a charge of abuse of office.  Ms. Tymoshenko denounced the verdict, which observers outside Ukraine have widely criticized as having been politically motivated.