The week started with excellent news from Libya. After months of stalemate, Tripoli was under the control of the rebels, and though Muammar Qaddafi’s whereabouts were still not known, the information about the arrest of his sons, reportedly alive and safe, was comforting, especially in light of the moderate and rather conciliatory rhetoric by leaders of the National Transitional Council urging rebels to refrain from acts of revenge.
Remarks made by the chief prosecutor at the ICC, Luis Moreno –Ocampo, assuring that discussions were under way with the NTC to secure the transfer of Seif al Islam al Qaddafi to The Hague heightened the optimism.
It was too good to be true. And then things started getting more real. Seif al Islam’s appearance on TV was undoubtedly a setback, but the real blow came with the announcement by Mustafa Abdel Jalil that the NTC is offering amnesty and a $1.7 million reward to anyone from Qaddafi’s inner circle who would kill or capture him.
This was the same man who just a few hours earlier had asked the Libyans not to take justice in their own hands and who threatened to resign if acts of revenge proliferated.
Many would defend Abdel Jalil’s change in rhetoric and even praise what could be – rightfully I may add – considered a necessary step in a rather pragmatic and realistic plan that aims to turn the Qaddafi page in the fastest way possible.
A step, undoubtedly necessary, to allow the country to move forward.
Money, after all, has always been a very efficient incentive, one that many maintain was what got Seif al Islam out of his brief detention … But as important as “getting” Qaddafi is, the future of Libya will to a large extent depend on how his end, as the leader of his country, occurs.
An execution of the dictator, even by one of his own, will make him a “martyr” in the eyes of countless, who will want revenge and may seek it when the opportunity arises, even if generations later.
A fair and credible trial for Qaddafi, the verdict of which may not please everyone, remains undoubtedly a necessary first step towards a better future not only in Libya, but across the Arab world, which is aspiring to move towards a future where power is seized through elections, not military coup d’états, and where previous leaders – including those with a criminal historical record – deserve justice, and don’t necessarily end up shot, hanged or assassinated.
In a recent interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Moreno-Ocampo said that collecting evidence to support charges of crimes against humanity against Qaddafi, his son Seif al Islam – who ironically has written a doctoral thesis endorsing the need to hold war criminals personally responsible – and his chief of Intelligence Abdullah al Sanussi, was very easy, because they never thought they could be investigated. “Who will investigate them? No one … so they were absolutely careless,” he said.
The same probably applied to Zine al Abidine Ben Ali, and to Hosni Mubarak and his sons, and to Bashar al-Assad and his associates. Those leaders never thought they could ever be questioned.
As controversial as Mubarak’s trial may be, it has started something new in the Arab world: It has put an untouchable icon behind the bars, in front of a judge and a jury.
And it is a popular revolution that put the untouchable icon behind the bars.
A fair trial of Qaddafi will enforce a culture of accountability greatly needed in the Arab world and will help avoid an otherwise unpreventable will for revenge.
From a legal point of view, the Libyan authorities are required to assist the ICC in arresting and extraditing Qaddafi and the other two wanted men. It is still not clear whether that will happen, given the Dead or Alive warrant and the division among members of the NTC, some of whom are lobbying for a local trial – one that could deliver a death sentence, not applicable according to the ICC.
In his interview with Vanity Fair, Moreno-Ocampo said he thinks he will get Qaddafi, if the strongman doesn’t kill himself.
That is yet to be seen.
But should it happen, and as controversial as it may be, a trial against Qaddafi in The Hague will be one little step in the right direction.
Alia Ibrahim is a senior Al Arabiya correspondent based in Beirut