Is corruption an international crime, and who has the responsibility to protect against these crimes and prosecute the perpetrators?

Dave O. Benjamin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Global Development and Chair of the master’s program in Global Development and Peace, has a full schedule that includes three publications under development, a full teaching load of undergraduate and graduate courses, advising students’ MA theses, co-advising the UB WorldQuest team, and serving as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of UB’s Journal of Global Development and Peace. Still, he makes time for studies into corruption as an international crime, the “Responsibility to Protect” as a norm for international criminal law, and the “Responsibility to Prosecute.”

One of Benjamin’s recent papers compares the implementation of the “Responsibility to Protect” in Libya and the Ivory Coast. In the case of the Ivory Coast, former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his loss in the November 2010 presidential election, instead using his control over the military, finances, and state resources to instigate intimidation tactics. Ousted President Gbagbo unleashed his private army that included mercenaries and former child-soldiers, on the Ivorian people, forcing a massive flight of the population to adjacent Ghana. In April 2011, a French military mission, along with Gbagbo’s successor, Alassane Outarra’s own army, found Gbagbo hiding in a dungeon within the presidential palace. The International Criminal Court has since indicted Gbagbo for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“I am comparing the resolutions and actions of the UN Security Council in Ivory Coast with what happened in Libya in early 2012,” says Dr. Benjamin, about a paper presented at the 2012 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association.

Benjamin is also preparing his presentation from the 2011 International Studies Association Convention, “Whose Responsibility to Protect?” for publication. The paper re-examines the “Responsibility to Protect” as a norm in International Law. Benjamin explains, “I went back to the Charter of the UN to the original articles for the formulation of the concept of the protection of people, the way it was originally envisioned by the architects of the UN. I was testing the hypothesis that the concept of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ is not new, and there is a linkage between the Preamble to the Charter and the ‘Responsibility to Protect.’ They go hand in hand. The details lie in the original formulations of the Articles of the Charter of the UN.”

Benjamin has recently been contracted by the publisher Routledge to author a book about Kleptocracy as an International Crime. Benjamin explains, “Kleptocracy means that state resources and assets are deliberately stolen by those who have absolute political power. Institutions of justice are subverted precisely so kleptocrats cannot be prosecuted. They protect the kleptocrats but they don’t protect the people against the kleptocrats. After it’s all long done with, kleptocrats get to walk away and enjoy their lives of wealth while the people exist in absolute poverty, war and destitution.”

Benjamin applies this definition to former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, who lives a pleasurable life of wealth and splendor while the Philippines is still an extremely poor country. It is obvious that the state doesn’t have the institutional capacity to prosecute kleptocrats, so it is up to the international community to charge them for their crimes, crimes that Mobutu Sese Seko, “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Charles Taylor, and others have committed.

Although everything seems so dark and hopeless, “Dr. B,” as students call him, is still positive about progress made in the fight against corruption and prosecuting kleptocrats. Liberia has turned an important corner in seeking good governance. Unlike former President Charles Taylor, who transformed Liberia’s national treasury into his own bank, the current president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist, has turned the economy around to the extent that, within the first six months after elections, every civil servant was paid on time.

“So it works!” says Benjamin optimistically, “You just need a functioning democracy that would build or rebuild the institutions of governance that would have accountability, a civil service that recognizes and obeys the rules and the laws, a government that is not corrupt and a judicial system that does what it is supposed to do—interprets, upholds and enforces the law irrespective of who it is. It is not an overnight project, but it is possible!”