Towards international justice

Geoffrey Robertson, in his otherwise sensible piece ("Pinochet: the press got it wrong", 4 December), is mistaken in endorsing the Law Lords' view that serving heads of state have absolute immunity from criminal or civil proceedings. Their acceptance of this argument was the one flaw in an otherwise pathbreaking judgment.

With prosecutions against Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and Saddam Hussein of Iraq (as well as Radovan Karadzic) increasingly on the western political agenda, this immunity clearly cannot be assumed. Indeed it is utterly perverse to make criminal heads of state accountable to law once they are retired but not while they have the capacity to commit further crimes against humanity. The point of the increasing enforcement of international law is not merely justice for the past victims of lawless rulers, but to constrain states to behave with respect for international norms in the future.

Martin Shaw
Brighton, East Sussex

This article first appeared in the 11 December 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Plato rules, OK?