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'Dictator Hunter' Brody: 'It's A Pleasure'

Sep 26, 2013
Originally published on September 26, 2013 1:17 pm



I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. In this part of the program, we want to talk about the question of how to achieve justice in cases that cross borders or go beyond the reach of local courts. This is a subject that's been in much of the news of late as the world continues to grapple with what to do about allegations that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people.

And the issue is in the news today because a special court at The Hague just upheld a 50 year sentence for Liberia's former president Charles Taylor. We'll give you a perspective you don't hear very often - from the family member of someone who's at the center of these proceedings. We'll speak with the daughter of the former president of the Ivory Coast, who, along with his wife, was indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. But now, we want to hear from a man who's made a career of bringing world leaders to justice. Reed Brody has worked to bring cases against some of the world's most notorious figures. His work is the subject of the documentary "The Dictator Hunter." Here's a clip.


REED BRODY: If you kill one person, you go to jail. If you kill 40 people, they put you in an insane asylum. You kill 40,000 people, you get a comfortable exile with your bank account in another country, and that's what we want to change here.

MARTIN: We caught up with Reed Brody yesterday.


MARTIN: Welcome to the program. Thank you so much for joining us.

BRODY: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Your official title is legal council and spokesperson for Human Rights Watch. So just as bluntly as I can put it, what exactly do you do?

BRODY: Well, for the last 15 years I've been working alongside atrocity victims trying to bring to justice the perpetrators of those atrocities. And it began in 1998 when the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in England on a warrant from a Spanish judge for crimes committed in Chile. I went to London to help on the case, and when the British House of Lords upheld Pinochet's arrest, we saw that we could use international justice to bring to book torturers and tyrants who had seemingly made themselves immune from justice, at least at home.

And we were approached by victims and human rights groups from around the world, who like us, were inspired by the Pinochet arrest to take on their cases. And I took up several, some have advanced and some have not.

MARTIN: As briefly as you can, would you describe the mission of the International Criminal Court and tell us how your work fits into that work?

BRODY: The International Criminal Court is an international legal tribunal whose work it is to investigate and prosecute cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute those crimes. My work is kind of in parallel to that because in my cases, Hissene Habre of Chad, Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti, previously Augusto Pinochet of Chile, these are cases brought by victims in national courts either of their own country or another country. And the International Criminal Court is designed to step in when national justice is unavailable or can't address a particular problem.

MARTIN: The U.S. is not a party to the ICC, why is that?

BRODY: Well, that's very unfortunate. The United States sees itself as an exception. And unfortunately, it undermines the architecture of international justice when countries - not just United States, but Russia, China, as well as those who are protected by the big powers, are effectively immunized from justice. And when we go to capitals around the world and talk about bringing torturers to justice, one of the things we get all the time is well, didn't George Bush order torture to be committed? Wasn't waterboarding taking place under George Bush?

Weren't suspects being sent to be interrogated and even tortured in places like Assad's Syria, Mubarak's Egypt, Gaddafi's Libya - why should we be brought to justice? Or why should our leaders be brought to justice when the United States itself is immune? And there is a double standard at work, and it's very dangerous for this emerging architecture of justice to have some countries put their leaders out of the reach of justice.

MARTIN: On the other hand, you know, I mentioned earlier that both Kenya's president and vice president have been indicted on alleged crimes related to post-election violence. William Ruto, the vice president, voluntarily presented himself to the court. He was actually excused because of the terrorist attack in Nairobi. He was excused to leave The Hague and go back to Kenya to address responsibilities there. What does that say to you? I mean, if he's willing to voluntary present himself, doesn't it mean that the infrastructure exists in his own country to address this matter?

BRODY: Unfortunately, not. I mean, as you point out, these cases have their origin in the election violence that rocked Kenya after the 2007 elections. Within a couple of months, at least 1,100 people were killed, thousands injured, more than a half a million people displaced. Now in the aftermath, there was an international commission headed by Kofi Annan and then a post-electoral violence commission that said the people who did this must be brought to justice.

And in the first instance, the best thing would be to have them brought to justice in Kenya. Unfortunately, the political leaders, including the current president and current vice president, really campaigned against this from happening and as was conceived by the post-electoral violence commission, if the national courts were not going to prosecute, then it was time for the International Criminal Court to step in. Most Kenyans, in fact, supported the ICC coming in precisely because there was no justice at home. Now that support has dropped because the president and vice president during their campaign sought to portray themselves as victims and as the ICC as a tool of Western imperialism. But it's important to remember that this case is before the ICC because there was no possibility for the national courts to deliver justice for these crimes.

MARTIN: As we are speaking now, I think many people in the world are very concerned about these recent kind of violence that has just really devastated the lives of civilians, and the ICC is primarily concerned with state actors, but we also see, you know, the rise of terrorist movements who are so-called non-state actors. What relevance does something like the ICC have in addressing the kind of people who launched this devastating attack on that mall in Kenya? Does it have some role?

BRODY: Well, the ICC also has jurisdiction over non-state actors. In fact, many of the first people to be indicted, including for instance, Joseph Kony of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, rebel groups in the Congo in the Central African Republic - the ICC prosecutor issued a statement saying that this attack on the mall could amount to a crime against humanity within the jurisdiction of the ICC. The problem is that the ICC does not have a police force.

It relies on state cooperation. In the case of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan is refusing to hand over its own president. In other cases, it requires the law enforcement officials of the state, parties of the ICC, to go out and arrest them. So the ICC can't actually go out and arrest either state actors or non-state actors. It relies on the cooperation of the different states.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, it's obvious that these cases take a very long time to bring. They can be incredibly complex and very frustrating, as you see people who the world community has pretty much agreed deserve to bring to justice and aren't, sometimes for many years, sometimes never. How do you keep at it and what does it take to be good at it? And why do you do it?

BRODY: Well, you know, I've seen throughout my career as a human rights activists the debilitating effect on a society when there's no accountability for atrocities. I've spent a lot of time working in Haiti, for instance, where the total impunity with, which a small elite has, for generations, gotten away with murder and plunder, leaves the poor majority feeling like they have no rights, that they don't count. And on a personal level, it's a privilege for me really to work with torture survivors, relatives of those who have been victims, who have harnessed that suffering into a quest for justice.

I've spent a lot of time with a man named Souleymane Guengueng of Chad who, from the depths of his prison under Hissene Habre, people around him were dying of malnutrition and ill-treatment. He took an oath. He said if I get out alive, I will fight for justice. And that's the kind of person I want to put my lawyerly skills in the service of. And one needs a lot of optimism - in the Hissene Habre case - I've been working on that with Souleymane and the other victims for 15 years, and it was just this summer that Habre was finally indicted by a court in Senegal and charged with crimes against humanity. So it requires a lot of tenacity and perseverance.

MARTIN: Reed Brody is legal counsel and spokesperson for Human Rights Watch. He's known by some as the dictator hunter. And he was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Reed Brody, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BRODY: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.