Three big time criminals were on the front pages recently, their crimes having been the stuff of news broadcasts and analyses stretching back to the 1960s. Charles Manson (aged 83) died in prison, where Ratko Mladic (aged 74) can also expect to end his days. Robert Gabriel – no angel – Mugabe (aged 93) was finally forced to resign from the presidency of a country he had slowly but surely impoverished during his 37 years as head of state. Like many others surveying the horrors inflicted by these three men, I wonder how they manage to live with the knowledge of their crimes. Probably they found arguments to justify their acts to themselves…
All three appear to have been dangerously off the rails. But while Manson was arrested, tried and found guilty of inciting and organising a series of gruesome murders in California, Mladic and Mugabe enjoyed considerable support for many years (indeed decades…) even after their crimes had been exposed to the world. Manson exerted demonic influence over a group of young people who he persuaded to carry out several bloody killings in Los Angeles in 1969. Almost sixteen years after ordering the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men – notably those trapped in the town of Srebrenica in July 1995 – Mladic was finally caught in Belgrade and then tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where he has been sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide and assorted crimes against humanity. His own deputies finally deposed Mugabe, after he had managed to keep control over and the backing of the ZANU PF movement since the mid-1970s, despite the collapse of the economy. His most notorious crime was to mastermind the post-independence massacre of thousands of Ndebele people in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, aided by North Korean military advisers.
A common thread linking these three criminals is their obsession with ethnic identity; a kind of disease that seems to spread like an epidemic through many populations. Deviant white man Charles Manson’s sect hated blacks (Afro-Americans) and arranged murders ostensibly to provoke a race war. As an orthodox Bosnian Serb Ratko Mladic developed a virulent hatred of “Turks” (i.e. Muslims). Robert Mugabe is not only homophobic in the extreme, after his terror campaign against the Ndebele in the 1980s, in the 1990s he incited young Zimbabweans to racial hatred against white farmers, many of whom fled the country.
Unlike Manson and Mladic, it would appear that Mugabe has been given impunity, at least in his native land, so there will be no justice. In that respect, his chaotic departure from the presidency leaves him in a similar position to countless other heads of state and governments, who transition from power without being held to account for the misery they have caused to thousands (sometimes millions) of people. Thus, while reflecting on the ugliness of dictators and murderers, it is also worth: i) considering why the rich and powerful are often able to avoid the long arm of the law; and, ii) rejoicing at the gradual emergence of a global system of justice that may be capable of discouraging power-hungry wannabes and violent thugs.
 See, inter alia: https://www.biography.com/people/charles-manson-9397912
 The judgement summary is horrific catalogue of human evil: http://www.icty.org/x/cases/mladic/tjug/en/171122-summary-en.pdf
 The story of Mugabe’s rise and fall is told in the Guardian newspaper (and elsewhere): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/23/zimbabwe-grants-robert-mugabe-immunity-from-prosecution