How to prolong a conflict ICC-style

The ICC warrant for Gaddafi may make Western powers feel good, but it will make things a whole lot worse in Libya.

Rob Lyons

Topics World

Serving court papers can be a tricky business. Lawyers’ agents have been known to dress up in costumes or deliver writs as the wrapping on bunches of flowers in order to serve a potential defendant. So, it will be fascinating to see what imaginative ruse the guys at the International Criminal Court (ICC) come up with after they issued an arrest warrant for Libya’s leader, Colonel Gaddafi, on Monday.

The Libyan dictator is being the very personification of elusive right now. Nobody seems to know where he is. This is largely due to his (quite reasonable) fear that letting the West know of his whereabouts is likely to be bad for his health, given NATO’s desperate desire to drop a bomb on his head. But it’s good to know that sheer impracticality is not going to stop those brave lawyers in The Hague from trying to summon Gaddafi to their court.

Nothing gets in the way of the ICC when it’s on a moral mission. Quite apart from the obvious point that Gaddafi isn’t going to hand himself over any time soon – and arresting him seems a non-starter, too – there’s the much more serious problem that the ICC warrant is going to make the situation in Libya worse. As things stood before Monday, one plausible resolution to the increasingly messy and deadly civil war would be for Gaddafi to accept that he is in no position to fight both his domestic opponents and the major Western powers pounding at his strongholds, and seek asylum in some friendly country. Now, with virtual ‘Wanted’ posters going up around the world, Gaddafi has little incentive but to stand and fight to the bitter end.

Gaddafi and two others – his son, Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi – are charged with ‘crimes against humanity’ for the alleged policy of ordering troops to suppress civilian protests in February, with lethal force if necessary. Since then, NATO has stepped in, initially on the pretext of protecting civilians but increasingly with the aim of getting rid of Gaddafi himself. No surprise, then, that William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, welcomed the ICC decision: ‘The warrants further demonstrate why Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy and why he should go immediately. His forces continue to attack Libyans without mercy and this must stop.’ NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen was even more explicit: ‘It reinforces the reason for NATO’s mission to protect the Libyan people from Gaddafi’s forces.’

In other words, the issuing of the warrant not only made the conflict harder to resolve, but it helped to justify the West’s role in it, too. The ICC, for all its posturing, is not some disinterested judicial body seeking to establish justice; it’s a tool of Western policy in the developing world, specifically designed to promote the notion that there is a moral Us trying to bring an evil Them into line. Moreover, when politicians struggle to get any kind of respect domestically, a jolly intervention in some poor country run by an evil bad guy provides a much-needed opportunity to be seen to be Doing Good in the world.

What makes Gaddafi special is that he isn’t black. For the first time in its nine-year existence, the ICC is trying to organise a showtrial for someone who isn’t a black African. As Tim Black notes elsewhere on spiked, five countries have attracted the ICC’s attention since it was formally established in 2002: Sudan, Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. Gaddafi is still African, of course, but accusing him shows that the ICC is getting more imaginative in deciding who is beyond the pale in global human rights.

As spiked has argued from day one, it would be far better that the West had never intervened in Libya. What has followed has been a drawn-out conflict in which NATO intervention will always prevent Gaddafi from winning; but that intervention is circumscribed enough that the ‘rebels’ – who include a considerable number of former regime members – haven’t enough strength to succeed either. As a result, tens of thousands of people may be dead and injured, with many more fleeing as refugees. Is this what doing good looks like?

Anything that allows Western powers to argue that they are doing the right thing, and which encourages them to carry on in the same vein, will only heap further misery upon Libyans and threaten the safety and sovereignty of people elsewhere. Yet that is exactly the role of the ICC.

None of this is to suggest that Gaddafi is an angel. On the contrary, he’s a despot who deserves to be held to account by his fellow countrymen, quite possibly on the end of a rope. But there is nothing positive in the Western intervention in this conflict, whether it comes in the form of a helicopter gunship over Tripoli or a wood-panelled courtroom in The Hague.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked. His book, Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder, will be published in October. (Order this book from Amazon (UK). Read his blog here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics World


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