All trials are important to someone, but some of are of much greater political and symbolic importance getting human rights abusers on trial is a massive step towards ending the impunity with which most abuses are committed. Weve been involved ourselves on occasion, such as in the attempts to bring General Pinochet to trial for the systematic abuse of human rights that took place under his rule in Chile.
Trials are in the news today and not necessarily for the right reasons. While its good news that Saddam Husseins aides are facing trial for abuses of human rights when they were in office, weve had serious concerns about the fairness of previous trials of this magnitude in Iraq, exacerbated by the fact that the death penalty can be applied, a punishment that Amnesty believes is always wrong.
The theres the trial of Lt Col Stephen Jordan for the abuses that took place in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Again, a good thing that someones being brought to justice but is Jordan, as he claims, just a scapegoat? Did the orders to allow mistreatment of prisoners come from higher up the chain of command?/p>
Making sure that the right people are brought to justice is essential if victims are to get justice and future abusers are to be deterred. Charles Taylor, for example, stands accused of being behind massive abuses in Africa that cost thousands of people their lives and limbs. Yet his trial has been delayed again, we heard today.
Trials are difficult, expensive and complicated. You cant control the results and sometimes they are inconvenient or embarrassing for politicians. But trials are still an absolute essential for a fair and just society. Thats why were resisting attempts by governments including here in the UK to deprive people of their liberty without trying them first.
Here's the late, great Peter Cook putting the case for fair trials much better than I ever could:
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