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Stopping Genocide Perpetrators

David Scheffer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues

You know, I often wonder how it is that certain elites assume they can get away with it and perpetrate massive waves of killing and brutality upon their own population. Of course, the reason is that many elites have gotten away with it. There are some elites who are currently enjoying sanctuary in various parts of the world who are responsible for massive crimes in the 1970s and 1980s and early 1990s. We actually—we know where some of these elites are, we know where they have their sanctuary, and it’s always our hope that ultimately they can be brought to justice for those past crimes. But I think during the 1990s—and particularly during our watch, during the Clinton administration—what I hope is being established more firmly than ever before is that no elite can assume in the future that they will get away with it. They have to assume the high probability that they will be tracked for the rest of their lives for the purpose for being brought to justice. And if we can instill that deterrence factor into societies around that world and into governments around the word, hopefully, over a ten-, twenty-, thirty-year period, we can start to establish within the international community a very firm understanding that there are consequences that will be borne out if these crimes take place, and that the consequences will pinpoint not governments, but individuals within those governments, so that it becomes a very personal issue of criminal culpability. It’s going to take time. If you go into various parts of the world right now, the last people in the world who know anything about the laws of war are rebel groups who are rampaging through the countryside. They probably would have a hard time—at least, the mass of them—even understanding what the Geneva Conventions are or that there’s a Genocide Convention. So, that ignorance factor is something that we also have to be very hard to work at, so that those who would seek to perpetrate these crimes—not only at the leadership, the lead level, but at the lower level, the foot soldier or the rebel level on the ground—understand that there are laws out there which it doesn’t matter that they’re within the sovereign borders of their own country. They’re still violating those international laws, and that they are subjecting themselves to being brought to justice.