Editor's Note: Alastair Smith is a professor of politics at NYU, and is co-author of The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Alastair Smith.
By Alastair Smith – Special to CNN
Despite its good intentions, the International Criminal Court and other venues for prosecution of former leaders inhibits political reform. After 33 years in power, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen finally stepped down. His resignation follows ten months of protest, his severe injury in a mortar attack on the Presidential Palace in June and three abortive attempts to have him resign. The difference this time was that he was granted immunity from prosecution.
One of the major arguments for harsh punishments is their deterrent value. Unfortunately, in the international arena the threat of punishment has precisely the opposite effect. As long as they stay in power, leaders are immune from prosecution. The international community typically turns a blind eye to their actions under the guise of sovereignty. And even when they register their protest, there is little they can do against a sitting incumbent. Yet once deposed, the ire of domestic and international audiences is heaped upon former leaders. Given these incentives, it is small wonder that leaders take any and every gamble to stay in power. This might not be everyone’s idea of justice but there are undoubtedly numerous widows and orphans in Yemen who wish immunity had been granted 10 months ago.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Alastair Smith.