Muammar Gaddafi: A dictator in the dock

Listen to me! Gaddafi in a more familiar setting: the United Nations.

Muammar Gaddafi is rumored to be plotting an escape to Niger. But even if he succeeds, he’ll hardly be safe. Interpol has issued a Red Alert against the Libyan dictator. If captured, Gaddafi will be turned over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faces trial on charges of crimes against humanity.

“This is the first case where the ICC has shown real clout, because its indictment is backed up by Interpol,” Mo Sacirbey, a lawyer and former foreign minister of Bosnia, tells Metro. “President al-Bashir of Sudan has been indicted, too — but he’s still at large because there’s no Interpol involvement.”

Cross-examination by international prosecutors is a humiliating prospect for Gaddafi. But it may be his best option. Other leaders, including Italy’s Benito Mussolini and Liberia’s Samuel Doe, were simply killed upon capture.

“You never know what might happen while Gaddafi is being captured,” notes Mariam Elhadri with Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

Dictators in the docks present a juicy spectacle: Consider former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic, who has alternatively boycotted his trial and declared it illegal. But are international war crimes tribunals counterproductive? Once a war criminal is indicted, he no longer has incentive to improve.

“In the year 2011, it’s implausible to argue that a leader responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity … can negotiate his or her own freedom from justice and live happily ever after. Today the rule of law actually means something when it comes to atrocity crimes,” notes David Scheffer, former President Bill Clinton’s ambassador for war crimes issues, who helped create the war crimes tribunals in the Balkans, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Cambodia.

And, says Sacirbey, Gaddafi’s actions show that war criminals don’t change. “The international community thought it had reformed him,” he notes. “But once you’ve committed war crimes, you don’t stop. That’s why Gaddafi has reverted back to his old ways.”


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