The Western groups putting Libya in the dock
Why are human-rights organisations arguing that Saif Gaddafi can only receive a fair trial in The Hague?
‘Saif Gaddafi, he is a Libyan. All the crimes and charges against him are committed in Libya.’ So said Aleddin Al-Mgariaf of the Libyan General National Congress on the day Saif’s trial began last week in a Libyan court. ‘Every Libyan believes that he should be tried in Libya. None of the crimes he’s been charged with were committed outside Libya, so there’s no reason whatsoever to try him outside Libya.’
But who cares what Libyans think? They may have suffered under the Gaddafi regime for four decades, watched Saif Gaddafi wag his finger and threaten ‘rivers of blood’ unless they ceased any rebel activity, seen their once-developed country reduced to rubble, and lost many friends and loved ones in the 2011 uprisings, but they are apparently incapable of bringing the late dictator’s favourite son to justice.
At least, that seems to be the view of Western human-rights outfits demanding that Gaddafi Junior be immediately shipped from his current place of imprisonment – in the western Libyan mountain town of Zintan – to The Hague to face trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC). As a spokesperson for Amnesty International wrote in the Huffington Post, this ‘wayward’ behaviour from the Libyan government – that is, the desire to try Saif themselves – is nothing but ‘the product of go-it-alone justice, with the Libyan authorities ignoring repeated pleas from the International Criminal Court to transfer the case to The Hague’.
How dare Libyans ‘go it alone’ in deciding the fate of Saif Gaddafi? Do they not realise they need help? Lacking sufficient direction, any attempt they make at a fair trial will, according to Amnesty, inevitably be ‘a hole-in-the-wall affair compared to the carefully handled one Libya needs’. It will amount to ‘second-rate victor’s justice in Libya’.
It seems that in order for a truly ‘first-rate’ legal trial, Saif must be prised from the fervoured grip of the bloodthirsty Libyan people and handed over to professionals at The Hague. Some observers, like Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, at least try to empathise with the fact that Libyans want to carry out justice for themselves. Yet there is still a sting in the tail: ‘It is understandable that the authorities may want to proceed promptly and try [Saif] in Libya’, she wrote recently. ‘But such trials today will not serve justice…. [He] should be handed over to the ICC immediately’, she says.
Amnesty’s counterparts at Human Rights Watch (HRW) concur. ‘Carrying on with a domestic proceeding against Saif Gaddafi in the face of an ICC order to turn him over to The Hague is a serious misstep’, claimed leading HRW figure Richard Dicker. Should the Libyan government fail to turn over Saif, Dicker believes, it will ‘send the signal that the authorities are not in actuality committed to a new Libya marked by the rule of law’. But whose law should this new Libya be ‘marked’ by? In the eyes of HRW, Amnesty and the like, it seems law and justice in Libya should be set by outsiders.
No one should be under any illusions that post-Gaddafi Libya is a nice place. The country is still largely fragmented into city states, ruled by competing militias. The central government has little control over national affairs and events. Indeed, it has so little control that Saif is standing trial in Zintan rather than the capital Tripoli, as his captors in Zintan don’t trust officials in Tripoli to try him fairly due to fears ‘Gaddafi “remnants” in the judiciary might try to declare him innocent’.
However, to attempt to extract Saif from Libya’s inevitably messy attempt to bring him to justice, and instead to try him in an ICC court that meets Amnesty and HRW’s standards, would be to do the Libyan people a grave injustice. It sticks two fingers up to the idea that they can develop a measure of justice for themselves and resolve their problems without the paternal guidance of Western legal experts.
This meddling amounts to a continuation of the neo-colonialist attitude of the Western states. In 2011, the West declared it would assist the Libyan people in their struggle against Gaddafi by attempting to bomb the country into democracy – with little thought for the vacuum that such cackhanded, impulsive grandstanding would leave in its wake.
By far the greatest contribution Western human-rights organisations could make to the successful development of the justice system in post-Gaddafi Libya would be to back off and stop meddling in it, letting Libyans decide for themselves what is ‘just’.
Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.