Posted by: scardenas | January 4, 2013

Insecure Safe Havens

Lonely house by Rayka.

Last month, Amnesty International issued the latest set of reports as part of its No Safe Haven” series on universal jurisdiction.  The human rights organization began the multi-year project in 2008, with the goal of reviewing each country in the world.  Ten lengthy reports have been produced so far, with the most recent ones focusing on Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Vanuatu; Germany, Venezuela, Spain, Solomon Islands, Burkina Faso, Sweden, and Bulgaria have also been covered. 

The “No Safe Haven” series has multiple audiences—lawyers, victims and their families, police, prosecutors, judges, and scholars—and it’s intended as a hands-on tool to facilitate accountability via prosecution forthe worst imaginable crimes.”

It’s a clever campaign, equating failure to prosecute with harboring of criminals.  It’s also an unapologetic assertion—claiming an obligation in international customary law to prosecute or extradite egregious rights violators found within a state’s borders.  And the notion of a safe haven conjures up other images, often out of view, glimpses of the accused running from their past.

Safe havens represent secure spaces, where those burdened with guilt can escape punishment while taking on new identities and living private, ordinary lives.  Is it possible to destroy others’ lives and still regain one’s own, without accounting publicly for wrongdoing?  For all the talk of laws and policies, international (in)justice so often reduces to human intimacies, entangled in acts of violence and the search for solace. 

Amnesty International’s “No Safe Haven” series ultimately unsettles the idea of impunity for human rights crimes:  the perverse notion that people can torture and kill, then simply relocate and carry on with their mundane lives as if nothing had happened.


  1. They should do one on the United States — highlighting, e.g., Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, et al.

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