In 1960 Israeli authorities captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and transported him to Israel where he was tried and executed. Argentina’s objection was swift, with calls for Eichmann to be returned to Argentina where he had been granted asylum. On what grounds did a ranking Nazi officer attain asylum? In 1951 the Geneva Conventions outlined the UNHCR’s then qualifications of “refugeedom”:
Article 1 of the Convention defines a refugee as a person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.
This verbiage quite clearly legitimizes Argentina’s decision and yet it is inconceivable that a perpetrator of the Holocaust could have walked free because of a document with such positive intentions. Israel and organization hunting Nazi’s around the word were not persuaded by the Geneva Conventions and Eichmann was brought to a much swifter justice by those who he committed crimes against.
The danger of documents like this is that they are just as easily used to defend victims of genocide as they are to protect those who committed violence against them. In 1993, the new government of post-civil war Rwanda refused further UN assistance and occupation after the international body denied warrants for the arrest of warlords fed and sheltered in UN refugee camps in bordering Tanzania. Only last week did the Saudi royal family grant asylum to ousted Tunisian dictator Ben Ali and his family in a move widely condemned by Western leaders but not unusual for a country that hosted an exiled Idi Amin until his death in 2003. Saddam Hussein’s eldest daughter Raghad is a guest of the Jordanian royal family in a move that has strained relations with the US after it was discovered she funded insurgents.
It was important for Israeli’s to meet their standards of justice to reach closure over a human tragedy and I hope Tunisians demand the same of the Saudis and try Ben Ali in their own courts by their own laws. Rwandans showed remarkable will and determination in the immediate wake of a devastating civil war and made clear that accepting aid was not relinquishing consent over their society’s laws.