How sex turned into torture

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The Independent Online
The catologue of former dictators whose retirement plans have been thrown into question by extradition proceedings in London against General Augusto Pinochet grows longer. An extensive list was handed to the UN Human Rights Commission earlier this year, alleging murder, torture and other abuses. The names are familiar: Idi Amin of Uganda, Mengistu Hailemariam of Ethiopia, Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti, and Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay. Mengistu is already being tried in absentia in Ethiopia, where he is accused of slaughtering at least 200,000 people between 1974 and 1991; he currently lives in Zimbabwe where his protector, Robert Mugabe, is coming under increasing pressure to give him up.The case with most direct relevance to Britain is that of Amin, who is alleged to have killed at least 75,000 people, until neighbouring Tanzania invaded in 1979 and relieved the Ugandans of his presence. After skulking for a while in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, he was packed off to Mecca and forbidden to travel, apparently as a result of trying to organise a shipment of arms to northern Uganda. (As I suggested last week, these guys like to keep their hands in, even when they give up their day jobs.)

Known as Dr Jaffa, because of his vast daily consumption of oranges, Amin's history is a gruesome combination of farce and horror. What concerns me here is the fact that his victims include British citizens, placing the British authorities in a similar position to Spain in the Pinochet case, especially as an extradition treaty is in force between ourselves and his current hosts.

Any serious attempt to force Amin to stand trial in Britain would require a great deal of political will, but isn't the Government supposed to have a new ethical foreign policy? The Foreign Office said last week that it was not aware of any moves to extradite Amin to Britain, referring me to an answer to a parliamentary question a few months ago which stated there are no plans to make such representations to Saudi Arabia - a position that surely has no connection with the fact that that country is the single biggest purchaser of British weapons. In 1997, the latest year for which figures are available, the Saudis spent pounds 1,576m in Britain, most of it on 56 combat aircraft, accounting for just under 47 per cent of British arms exports.

It would be nice if some of the people who voted Labour in 1997, and who have applauded the Government's stance on Pinochet, started to pester their MPs about Amin. This is relatively uncharted territory, since it is only very recently that dictators - other than the Nazis - have begun to be seen for what they are: criminals and mass murderers, instead of rather unpleasant politicians. There are people who do not welcome this development, as we can see from the howls of outrage which greeted Pinochet' s arrest last autumn; expect more next month, when he finally appears in court to explain why he should not be sent to Spain to answer the charges against him. (I happened to spend part of last week translating the indictment from Spanish, for a book I am writing, and I can assure you that the material is stomach-churning.)

Only last week the Spectator got very cross, laying into what it called "the human-rights scam" and "the tyranny of human rights". It also mocked the chief prosecutor of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda war-crimes tribunals, who takes up her post next month, as the "high priestess of human rights". There is something perplexing about people who talk about human rights in this way, as though it were a dirty word. As for the claim that war- crimes tribunals violate the principle of national sovereignty, this is obviously true - and not before time. The notion of universal human rights means very little if individual states are allowed to argue that they should be able to torture their own citizens with impunity.

The larger point, however, is that we are witnessing a dramatic shift not just in politics but in morality. Morality used to be linked almost exclusively to the private sphere, specifically to matters of sexual conduct, with the majority of the population kept in a state of permanent anxiety about illegitimacy, divorce, adultery and homosexuality. Now that we have largely succeeded in evicting church and state from our private lives, we have much more time and energy to think about the public sphere - and that includes setting up mechanisms to punish those who torture and murder under the guise of political necessity. Who would have thought, when feminists and radicals began arguing for free love in the 1960s, that the success of their campaign would one day send a shiver down the spines of murderers like Amin and Mengistu?