May 25 2008

Mr. Bemba, Meet Mr. Bentham

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:18 PM

The arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese warlord and former vice-president of the DRC has been arrested on war-crimes charges. Bemba’s arrest creates a new opportunity for the UN’s International Criminal Court to demonstrate both consistency and determination in the prosecution of cases against African outlaws. As the trial of Charles Taylor is showing, convicting rogue African leaders for crimes against humanity is difficult, especially when conventional rules on evidence and testimony are followed. Bemba’s case is complicated, but his arrest at least takes him out of play. For years he has destablized electoral politics in central Africa. Some time ago, I argued he should be banned from political particpation because of his lengthy resume of violent actions. Instead, the international community allowed him to stand for president in the last Congolese national elections, which proved both to be an embarassment for the election’s sponsors (the European Union) and harmful to the Congolese (who suffered violence during the pre- and post- runoff period).

Bemba’s arrest is not a pure victory, however. His jailing represents a compromise between human-rights “purists” (who, absurdly, would probably like to arrest — on general principles — every African leader that ever picked up a gun) and pragmatic “problem solvers” around the world who would admit that Bemba is being selectively prosecuted but that imprisoning him simply carries too many utilitarian benefits to argue against. In short, Bemba’s arrest means — pace Bentham — the greatest good for the greatest number.

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