Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Thought for Kampala: Kleptocracy

Onward to Kampala

As all eyes are trained on Kampala in May-June this year, for the first review conference of the International Criminal Court, we pause to consider how else the world could use the ICC to improve the lot of Africans on whose continent the Court’s first review conference is being held.

There is no shortage of declarations of good intentions—backed up by evident good faith—on the part of the international community to focus attention on the need to improve the lot of Africans on their own continent. The UN's Millennium Development Goals project is but one notable example of this show of good faith. Such gestures deserve appreciation. Yet, anyone who has helplessly observed the local subversion of quality-of-life-improving efforts in Africa is naturally concerned that whatever it is that the international community aims to do in aid of Africa may not go the wasted ways of many other fine initiatives of foreign friends of Africa and of Africans themselves.

In this connection, one thinks of kleptocracy; of violation of human rights; and, of how these misconducts subvert quality-of-life-improving efforts in economically developing countries, especially those in Africa. And one wonders what to do about them, in order that efforts like the MDGs will yield the intended results—with Africans enjoying a better life, like their fellow human beings elsewhere.

One thing that the international community must seriously consider in this regard is the recognition of kleptocracy as an international crime and which every country must be empowered to prosecute—regardless of who committed the crime and where it was committed.

Kleptocracy: the Root of Much Evil

There is little doubt that kleptocracy ranks on top of any list of the most dire social problems facing economically developing countries—especially those in Africa. When one thinks of social problems in Africa, one thinks of genocide against another ethnic (or religious) group, extermination of political opponents, extra-judicial executions, torture, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, wars of aggression and the variety of war crimes that go with them, and other human rights violations of the violent kind. All these have certainly become more engaging of the immediate attention of the international community. In the very nature of things, this should be so.

But, one needs to look only a little closer to see just how equally ruinous—perhaps even more ruinous—kleptocracy is in its social consequences in Africa. The apparent social costs include those revealed in the direct link often made between the enduring scourge of fatal diseases (such as the AIDS epidemic, malaria and tuberculosis) and kleptocracy in the economically developing world. Beyond this obvious recognition of the social costs of kleptocracy, there is a need also to appreciate fully the link between kleptocracy and the violent sorts of human rights violations that readily come to mind when one thinks of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Kleptocracy affords both motive and opportunity to violate human rights violently—and to continue to do so. When a kleptocrat misappropriates public wealth, he has a reason to suppress such public exposure and criticism as may come from current or former colleagues and aides, opposition politicians, independent media, social interest groups, and citizens. Suppression of criticisms may take the form of extermination of political opponents and critics, extra-judicial executions, torture, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and so on.

Similarly, the kleptocrat, fearing post-incumbency prosecution or loss of the venal privileges of office to which he has grown accustomed, resolves to remain in office forever, regardless of any rule of law militating against him. Any popular movement to remove him from office—even by constitutional means—may result in further violent violations of human rights. In this connection, no tactic may be seen as too depraved to consider, if it will only divert attention from the need for political change. To this end, resort may be had to such diversionary tactics as the foment of international wars of aggression or civil wars; or to the incitement of inter-racial, inter-ethnic, or sectarian conflicts—even resulting in genocide.

Freedom from want—a human right in need of invigoration

In addition to the foregoing considerations, there is the humbler case that kleptocracy is a direct violation of human rights, under the more traditional reasoning. The point of departure here is to recall the legal tributaries of the modern stream of international law of human rights. These may be taken to be freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom from fear, and more relevantly—freedom from want. While the first three freedoms have received commendable emphasis under the new order of international law, freedom from want, as a concept of international law, appears often to be ignored as the poorer cousin. Yet, the right to freedom from want is very much a fundamental human right; for it has received that recognition in all the leading international instruments on human rights beginning with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Regrettably, Western States view with disquiet the fundamental right to freedom from want and its progenetive rights as listed above. They fear boosting these rights may result in a state of affairs in which they may be viewed as having an obligation to afford those rights to citizens of developing countries. But this concern need not impede, as a bare minimum, an incremental approach to the right to freedom from want. This could begin with an incremental approach to the right to freedom from want.

This, in turn, will necessarily begin with the minimal legal requirement view that public officials who grossly violate that right by stealing the wealth of their nations may be punished as international criminals (in a manner agreed upon by the international community). Indeed, one should reasonably expect that the reduction or elimination of kleptocracy in developing countries, as would result from this criminal proscription, would yield direct dividends to Western States. There will be a diminution or termination of the cycle of dependence of developing countries on Western foreign aid (in which event, the West may need no longer to worry about a moral or legal expectation to ensure freedom from want to citizens of developing countries). There will also be a reduction of economic immigration (and its attendant headaches) from developing countries to the West.

Kleptocracy as a Subject of International Criminal Law

Kleptocracy has, so far, remained beyond the cognisance of international law. It is certainly not a subject of international criminal law. Yet the need to make kleptocracy a subject of international criminal law rests in the same realms of common sense and legal analogies that inspire the rule of law in general, and specific legal norms in particular.

There is no need to debate here the merits of the various views of St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine of Hippo, John Austin, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Ovid and Seneca for the genesis of law. For there is no room to dispute the point that laws (and sanctions for their breach) have become part of the realities of modern life. Laws have come to be viewed as the best guarantees of protection that modern civilization could devise for the values that society holds most dear, and sanctions offer a warranty of deterrence for their violation. The same guarantees and warranty of law and sanctions are just as good for society, in order to deter peculating public officers from filching the public wealth that should be used to improve the lives of citizens whose lives it is the chief duty of public office to improve with the public wealth.

And by way of appreciable legal analogy, there should be little difficulty in conceiving of the elevation of kleptocracy to the rank of subjects of international criminal law, for some of the same sources of international law (custom, conventions and general principles of law) may be relied on to produce this result in the usual fashion. All that is needed is a conscious effort to mobilise the trend.

One point of this analogy is necessarily a reference to evolutions in custom and usages, by which rules of international law and practice tend to emerge.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a most venerable fountain of customary international law of human rights. Part of its value, in this connection, is its aspiration for an international order in which fundamental human rights can be fully realised. Now, after numerous conventions, UN resolutions and hortatory declarations of general principles, vainly urging states to do their best to promote human rights—while leaving it entirely up to them to do so, upon the premise that the principle of sovereignty of nations forbids outside intervention for inside respect for human rights—the international community appears now to have found the courage to visit with criminal sanctions individuals who grossly violate the fundamental human rights of others. But this resolve appears thus far to focus exclusively on gross violations of human rights—violent type.

Given, however, the equally dire consequences of gross violations of human rights in the venal order of kleptocracy, the inclusion of kleptocracy in the class of violations which ought to be punished by criminal sanctions would seem but a natural extension of the current resolve to subject to criminal punishment gross violations of human rights. Thus, it seems that this current trend in customary international law to meet violent violations of human rights with international criminal law, should afford an impetus for similar treatment of kleptocracy since it produces similar results for the citizens victimised, albeit in a less precipitous manner.

Similarly, all conventional conceptions of crimes against humanity eschew ‘other inhumane acts’, beyond the usual enumeration of specific types of crimes qualifying as crimes against humanity. Clearly, kleptocracy is a most inhumane act when it results in dehumanising misery, ignorance and disease to helpless citizens whose lot would have been improved by the stolen resources.

The final point of analogy to be drawn here will be to general principles of law recognised by modern nations. Two points may briefly be made here. First, there is hardly any nation where the offence of theft, fraud or breach of fiduciary duty by public officials is not a crime. That being the case, there is nothing radical at all in making kleptocracy a crime under international law. And, second, in most jurisdictions, especially under the common law model, it is a crime to omit to provide the necessaries of life to those under one’s custody and care. Undoubtedly, the crime of failure to provide will be aggravated where the custodian would have self-appropriated, beyond his or her own basic needs, any available resources needed to provide the necessaries of life for those under his or her care.

The Need for Universal Jurisdiction over Kleptocracy

For gross, violent violations of human rights international law now recognises the power of a power in every state to prosecute offenders in its own courts. This same power should be given to states to enable them prosecute kleptocrats. The same justifications that warrant this power over the more readily recognisable international crimes also recommend themselves in the case of kleptocracy. (1) It is a crime that often shocks the conscience of humanity. That victims of Aids, malaria or hepatitis-B are dying without medical care in an African country, while their heads of state keep siphoning off public funds to their own Swiss bank accounts is a conduct that shocks the conscience. (2) That such a head of state may resort to a gross, violent violation of human rights, such as torture, in order to suppress exposure or criticism for the theft, or avoid constitutional removal from office, has certainly been accepted as a crime against humanity, warranting universal jurisdiction. (3) More immediately, the kleptocrat may flee his country or shroud himself with a self-designed and self-serving amnesty law, in order to avoid prosecution at home, while he retains his ill-gotten wealth in the face of the continuing suffering of his people. (4) And, these victims of kleptocracy are usually powerless to prosecute the culprits at home, even in the absence of amnesty.


There is a grave need then for the international community to recognise kleptocracy as an international crime, which every country should have the power to prosecute—regardless of who committed the crime and where it was committed. One hopes—and expects—that members of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC would lend their significant weight towards achieving this desirable state of international affairs, as they did with the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court.

Not only will the international criminal proscription of kleptocracy assist in the true realisation and consolidation of the other efforts such as the MDGs and many other inititives, but such proscription will be, in itself and above all, a lasting gift of justice to the ordinary citizens of Africa and the developing world in dire need of it.

1 comment:

Houstonlaw said...

I totally agree with you that there should be universal committee to take care of it.

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