Why don't we put Robert Mugabe on trial?
Why don't we put Robert Mugabe on trial? Well, there is a legalistic answer and there are all the other ones, the more political ones.
Legally, Zimbabwe did not sign up to the International Criminal Court. What's more, referring the country's senior officials to it would require a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. Talking to Judge Richard Goldstone (Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal 1994-1996) tonight, he feels that the main obstacles to such a UN resolution would be China, which has lucrative arms and mineral deals with Zimbabwe, as well as Russia.
There are other ways that legal actions could be pursued against Mr Mugabe of course. His own people might put him on trial when he is finally removed from office. And - remember the Pinochet precedent - someone might launch a legal action against him in a national court were he ever foolish enough to travel to certain countries.
When it comes to the political reasons for avoiding a trial, one might be simply that the best way to ease Mr Mugabe from power is for the opposition to negotiate an arrangement that would include immunity from prosecution. Some even speculate that the prospect of a trial may have convinced Zimbabwe's hard line security chiefs that they have no option other than to ensure that Mr Mugabe is returned to office.
If Zimbabwean opposition leaders chose to make a deal with the president in order to get him to step down, is that wrong? Is it acceptable to forsake the chance to try him for what has happened in this election campaign if doing so might save many more lives in the future? And what if the deal unravelled? This is what has happened to Charles Taylor, the former Liberian leader who thought he had negotiated immunity and a cushy retirement in Nigeria but has subsequently found himself on trial in Sierra Leone.
International criminal justice is still poorly developed, and the prospects for success against Mr Mugabe unclear. By remaining in office, of course, the president retains the powers of a head of state - including his army. He knows that the outside world is very unlikely to invade in order to depose him. It would be virtually impossible to get an enabling Security Council resolution (expect another Chinese veto). Key neighbours such as South Africa which would be required to cooperate in any invasion of land-locked Zimbabwe and they would be very unlikely to do so. Those problems might sound familiar from Kosovo or even Iraq - and at the moment the key international players lack the will for more projects on that scale.