What happens to deposed leaders?
- 14 April 2011
- From the section Magazine
In Ivory Coast, the country's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, is under arrest. In Libya, the calls for Col Muammar Gaddafi to stand down are gaining strength as the Nato-led bombing campaign continues. So what happens to leaders if they lose power?
There was no more visible proof that Mr Gbagbo had lost power than the sight of him dressed in a white vest, towelling himself down and changing into a floral shirt.
That image brought into sharp focus the reality of a post-presidential era, just as the UN-recognised president, Alassane Ouattara, was promising him a fair trial.
Some 1,500 people have been killed across the country and a million forced from their homes during the four-month stand-off since the disputed elections.
As the fighting in Libya goes on, questions are also being asked about what the future holds for Col Gaddafi, while Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is under arrest for alleged corruption. So what usually happens to deposed leaders like these?
In the past, the most common outcome has been that they flee to a country willing to take them, often by prior arrangement to bring an end to civil unrest. Exile can be voluntary or involuntary, and could even be within the same country, as in the case of Pol Pot.
Idi Amin spent 24 years in Saudi Arabia after being deposed in Uganda, dying there in 2003. Erich Honecker fled to first Moscow and then Chile after his 19 years as leader of the Communist Party in East Germany came to an end when the Berlin Wall came down.
In 1986, the 20-year reign of Ferdinand Marcos was brought to a close after four days of protests on the streets of Manila. US President Ronald Reagan, a former ally, urged him to step down and he fled the Philippines for Hawaii.
Sometimes they appear in unlikely places. Valentine Strasser was ousted as Sierra Leone's leader in 1996 and then showed up as a law student in the University of Warwick in England. This year, Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti after a long period in France.
Finding a safe haven for ex-leaders is a practice that goes back to ancient times. Greek tyrant Peisistratus was ousted from office in Athens and exiled to northern Greece, where he gathered an army to once again conquer the city.
Scottish monarchs in the Middle Ages were often exiled to France, united by the so-called Auld Alliance and their common enemy, England.
But events in Ivory Coast this week have not followed the usual process, says David Anderson of the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford in the UK, because normally the endgame is rather different.
Mr Gbagbo could have done a deal but instead he foolishly stuck himself in his bunker and stayed there until they got him, he says.
"That was probably unwise and he could have done a deal earlier and could have gone somewhere by mutual agreement. France could have persuaded some other country in French-speaking Africa to accept him as a distinguished refugee.
"What normally happens is that there are negotiations that are set in train, having identified a political refuge and that's often within Africa. In one or two notable cases, for African Muslims, it has been in the Arab world, most famously of all Idi Amin going to Saudi Arabia."
Where the leader chooses to go to is often governed by personal relationships, says Professor Anderson, or a favour from the past. No one else in Africa would take Amin, due to the atrocities committed by his regime, and he had previously allowed some Saudi influence in Uganda, through mosque construction, for example.
"For these [host] countries it's a relatively benign gesture because these deposed leaders must no longer lead an active political life. You sit tight, don't give interviews, you don't go public."
Promising to take a disgraced leader can bring about peace after a bloody civil war, but the pledge can be rescinded at a later date. When former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, fled office in 2003, Nigeria felt a regional responsibility to take him, but they later released him when Sierra Leone put in a fresh request for his extradition. Mr Taylor now faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but denies all the charges.
"For a country to take someone like this, it's an act of diplomatic solidarity for which their Western allies will praise them and thank them, but the agreement is that no-one makes a fuss about it, unless the guest starts behaving badly," says Prof Anderson.
"There's a sword of Damocles hanging over these people and it's real, not artificial. If they break the terms of their guaranteed impunity, then they are in rough waters in terms of the politics around them and not allowed to stay."
But there are added risks that a host country could be seen as complicit in any crimes the leader is accused of committing, says the professor. While Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak, who is under arrest after allegations of corruption and abuse, could eventually end up in the West, he says there would be few takers for Col Gaddafi.
The long arm of the law now crosses continents and means that stories about disgraced figures enjoying a long retirement in a villa in the sun could increasingly become a thing of the past.
The creation of the International Criminal Court in 1998 narrowed the number of countries that would accept a deposed leader, says Patrick Smith, editor of the London-based newsletter Africa Confidential.
"The country shouldn't be signatories to the International Criminal Court which leaves a lot of scope - China, America, Russia and Israel - but also not be part of the international consensus, so it wouldn't be safe for Gbagbo to go to the US, for example, because they would hand him over to the ICC."
There's a lot of opposition and scepticism about the ICC in Africa, says Mr Smith.
"But the continent's moving in the general direction of favouring systems of international justice. There are criticisms of the way the ICC is run but there is general support for more mechanisms to bring tyrants to justice."
The arrest of the former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998 marked a key moment in the application of international law, he says, and gave a moral basis to the ICC, because European powers like Spain and Britain were acting against one of the West's "prized operators in Latin America".
The endgame has very much changed, says Prof Anderson. Deals struck to usher leaders out of power are never disclosed in any detail, but they would have included in the past some form of impunity.
"In the last few years, that has become less and less tenable and it's very noticeable that the lawyers discussing Gaddafi's future have been pointing out that even if he is given a safe haven in order to bring conflict to an end, there could be no guarantee of impunity.
"Therefore there's a growing recognition that international law and mechanics can come into play. The ICC wasn't there 10 years ago so there was no way to enforce any legal control."