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Gaddafi arrest warrant tests credibility of International Criminal Court

Colonel Gaddafi is a brutal tyrant, but his arrest warrant is a political move. EPA/Sabri Elmhedwi

Arrest warrants have been issued for the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam, and Libya’s intelligence chief Abdullah Sanussi. It follows a referral by the United Nations Security Council in February.

The International Criminal Court issued the warrants ordering the three to be charged with committing crimes against humanity for authorising and organising attacks on civilians, including peaceful demonstrators, in Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata, and other Libyan towns earlier this year.

In his submission to the ICC, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Gaddafi had personal responsibility for implementing “a policy of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians and demonstrators and dissidents.”

Gadaffi’s future

Though not unexpected, the issuing of warrants by the ICC for Gaddafi, his son, and intelligence chief, raises a number of questions about the future course of the war in Libya and the reputation of the ICC.

There can be little doubt that prospects for a negotiated settlement of the conflict have receded.

Gaddafi has yet another reason to fight on and fewer reasons to seek exile in any country which may accede to the jurisdiction of the ICC, or be encouraged by Security Council resolution 1970 to co-operate with the court.

Though he has vowed to “live and die in Libya,” what incentive does Gaddafi now have to relinquish power? The ICC may have delayed what must ultimately be a political solution to the conflict.

A politicised ICC

The prosecution of Gaddafi will reinforce views that the ICC is an agency of Western justice which will target Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, Charles Taylor in Sierra Leone or Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, but not Western leaders such as former US President George W. Bush.

Though it is supposed to be independent and politically neutral, the ICC is being politicised in two ways:

First, we now have a situation where a country which refuses to submit its own citizens to the jurisdiction of the ICC (the US) is using the UN Security Council to get its political enemies referred to the same court for prosecution. The hypocrisy and double standards at play here are lost on very few.

Secondly, the selective nature of who is prosecuted is widely discussed outside the corridors of Western power.

Selective justice

Why Gaddafi but not Bashar Assad in Syria or Al Khalifa in Bahrain, both of whom are thought to be responsible for atrocities on an equivalent scale to those allegedly committed by the Libyan leader? Are they too politically and strategically useful to Washington, and must therefore be protected?

Why doesn’t the UN drag Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak from his hospital bed to The Hague, to answer for his crimes?

After all, the new administration in Cairo has indicated that, unlike the Obama Administration, it will ratify the Rome Statute which established the ICC.

Search for evidence

Just over two weeks ago, ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo told a press conference “we have information that there was a policy to rape in Libya those who were against the government. Apparently he [Colonel Gaddafi] used it to punish people.”

Claims of sexual attacks were widely reported in the Western media, with accusations that Libyan soldiers were issued with Viagra to assist them in their horrendous crimes.

As the journalist Patrick Cockburn reports in The Independent, the problem with these accusations is that after investigating them, neither Amnesty International nor Human Rights Watch could find any evidence for them, or for the other serious crimes Gaddafi is said to have ordered.

Though uncritically accepted and re-broadcast by Western media outlets, claims of mass rape, the use of foreign mercenaries and the killing of regular Libyan forces who refused to shoot protestors, have not been verified by human rights monitors.

Credibility of ICC

By demonising Gaddafi with unsourced, one-sided accusations before evidence was tested in the court, prosecutors, publicists and the media have done serious damage to the credibility of the ICC.

This will make the administration of justice for Gaddafi’s actual victims much more difficult. In the media, these seemingly false claims remain uncorrected.

Gaddafi is a brutal tyrant who should answer for his crimes. It is not clear that the warrants issued last night against him and his inner circle will necessarily advance this process for the people who have had the misfortune of living under his rule for the past 40 years.

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