EDITORIAL: Dictators have all rights too
One of the hallmarks of a democratic society, in which the rule of law is respected and upheld, is that people are not punished in body or goods unless the law has allowed due process. It matters not that there are witnesses who can speak first-hand of the atrocities or other transgressions committed, or allegedly committed, by the accused person.
It is still a sign of a mature democracy when what lawyers call due process obtains, and charges laid against an offender are proved in a court of law before any dispossession of property or life can be visited upon even the most deliberate and vicious of lawbreakers.
These principles are not to be compromised on the expedient grounds that Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were violent and despicable dictators, and that during the regimes of these leaders Iraqis or Libyans, respectively, were imprisoned or executed without benefit of charges being laid against them, far less of a proper trial.
There now seems to be some evidence that the late dictator of Libya was taken alive during the closing stages of the internal conflict in the last week. It is also true that whatever good he did, his style of leadership led to the denial of human rights, the suppression of dissent and excess violation of principles to which the family of democratic nations subscribe.
They who live by the sword will die by the sword, and implicit in that is the notion that a dictator may be violently overthrown by those opposed to his dictatorship.
Yet, for all the venom and disgust one must feel in the heat of the battle to capture the dictator, it is because one is fighting to establish and espouse the rule of law, and against the rule of dictatorship, that it becomes necessary to avoid the evil of arbitrary or capricious justice by knifing or shooting former rulers captured alive, simply because one is bent on avenging past wrongs.
In this context, we support calls by international human rights groups for the observance of due respect for the human rights of detainees formerly loyal to Gaddafi, and we also commend the establishment of the United Nations commission of inquiry into the dictator’s death.
Democracy has its imperfections, but it is the best way of ensuring that leaders are kept accountable to the people; and even when dictators are overthrown, the high ideals of democracy demand that they be treated in accordance with the rule of law – and not that of the jungle.