As I write this article, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori is in police custody in Chile after a surprise arrival from Japan. Fujimori spent the last five years fighting efforts by the Peruvian government to have him sent to Lima to face charges that range from human rights violations to corruption. He travelled to Chile, a country that borders Peru, as part of an attempt to pressure the Peruvian judicial authorities to clear the path for him to run in the next Presidential elections, something he is at this point legally barred from doing.
It is unclear at this stage whether Fujimori will remain in custody for the duration of the extradition process or whether he will regain his freedom while the Chilean courts make a final decision, once Peru makes the formal extradition request. Whatever happens, his plans to be a candidate in next years elections, in total disregard of the serious charges against him stemming from his dictatorial ten-year rule, have at least been temporarily halted.
We tend to think of globalization as a phenomenon related to commercial goods and capital flows, and some times big migratory waves, but rarely as an institutional process that involves the internationalization of justice. To be sure, there has been much discussion about global justice and humanitarian intervention in the last few years, but almost always in relation to international courts and military action rather than the simpler notion that national boundaries are offering fewer and fewer guarantees of escape to those who committed crimes when they were in office.
Global justice is usually taken to mean international bodiessuch as the various War Crimes Tribunalswhose standards are often debatable. And it is particularly controversial when it becomes entangled with humanitarian intervention, which often entails military action. But there is another side to global justice that should cause much less disagreement: namely, the idea that certain standards of law are gaining international acceptance, making it more difficult for human rights violators to elude justice.
When someone like Augusto Pinochet is arrested in London or Mr. Fujimori is taken into custody in Santiago because of an international petition based on a reasonable suspicion of human rights violations and corruption, we are faced with the best dimension of global justice.
Of course, there was a time when arresting political leaders in third countries simply meant the internationalization of political persecution. Governments would help each other deal with their fugitives based on their own political interests, rather than on the merits of the arrest warrants. Today, however, many of the political figures being arrested in third countries are not the victims of political persecution at the hands of hostile governments. They are actually individuals whose actions have turned them into legitimate targets of judicial systems that are able to act beyond their borders. This type of globalization of justice is not a deliberate design of some international body but the result of the gradual reluctance of governments and courts of law in various countries to face moral condemnation. This development should be welcomed with no less enthusiasm than the increasing flow of goods and services across borders.
It means that many people now have a greater chance of seeing those former leaders who killed or imprisoned their loved ones and stole their money go to jail. But perhaps more significantly, it demonstrates the gradual consolidation of international notions of law that will one day hold accountable everyone and anyone who exercises power wherever they attempt to flee (including those leaders who are today trying to bring to justice those who were once in office and might themselves commit abuse of power).
In the case of Fujimori, the government that is trying to bring him to justice is corrupt and tends to bend the law. But the fact that Chilean courts have acted against Fujimori means that corruption in Peru is not an excuse not to bring Fujimori to justice. The international attention will probably force the Peruvian legal system, if Fujimori is extradited, to act more independently of the government. But even if Fujimori is not extradited to Peru, he will not be able to escape with total impunity because, as is shown by Chiles decision to arrest him, other countries are also holding him accountable.
The process of global justice in the very specific sense of the dilution of national boundaries is only in the beginning stages. Many flaws are still apparent. For instance, international justice is still unable or unwilling to deal with those who commit crimes while they are actually in power. The Robert Mugabes and Fidel Castros of this world are still able to travel periodically without getting into the type of trouble that Fujimori got himself into by landing in Chile. But what happened in Chile is a step in the right direction.