Who Tries Gadhafi’s Son Could Determine Future of Concept of National Sovereignty

June 12, 2013 10:42 am 1 comment

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC/CPI), Netherlands. Photo: Vincent van Zeijst.

Since 2011, when Libyans overthrew and killed Moammar Gadhafi, a little-noticed but highly significant legal battle has been fought over who will prosecute those in his regime accused of human-rights abuses.

In particular, the fate of his son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, is the subject of an enormous struggle between Libya’s post-Gadhafi government and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Will Libya’s new government or the ICC try Saif for crimes committed during his father’s rule and the civil war that ousted him? This is not a dry-as-dust dispute over the jurisdiction of competing courts but a fundamental political issue about national responsibility and sovereignty with profound implications for the United States.

When the ICC treaty was under negotiation, supporters argued it would be needed only when a country’s legal system wouldn’t prosecute its own citizens. The “complementarity” doctrine, they contended, would ensure that nations prepared to take responsibility for crimes committed in their names would be free to do so.

Of course, no one had any idea how the abstract, untested “complementarity” theory would actually work. Moreover, an even more fundamental issue was at stake: Is it always desirable to prosecute alleged human-rights violators or can countries legitimately choose other ways to confront their history, resolve abuses and disputes and move forward?

For example, after apartheid, South Africa established a truth-and-reconciliation commission to encourage exposing the full truth about apartheid’s crimes, providing amnesty for those who confessed fully. Several former Communist-bloc police states preferred a general release of information about their history and blanket forgiveness, believing so many had been implicated in human-rights violations, even if unwillingly, that prosecutions would keep society’s open wounds festering.

Each country has to make a mature judgment whether to follow a criminal-justice formula or whether progress, social peace and stability are better served by other approaches. If prosecution is rejected, there is now a risk the ICC will try to overturn the national decision and prosecute anyway. That risk is now manifested in the ICC’s demands to prosecute Saif Gadhafi.

If the ICC can override Libya, which actually intends itself to prosecute the miscreants, what recourse is there for countries wishing to pursue the alternative approach?

ICC proponents say Libya is not capable of a serious prosecution. That might currently be true but it is not a compelling reason to immediately extradite Saif (still held by anti-Gadhafi rebels who captured him in 2011, not by the new government), thereby relinquishing the potential for trial in Libya. Many Africans will see this as yet another example of a European-dominated ICC (understandably, given European Union leadership in establishing it) presuming to administer criminal justice to former colonies.

The African Union’s May summit complained bitterly that the ICC has conducted only eight formal investigations, all of them related to Africa. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said “now the process has degenerated into some kind of race hunting.”

Will Libya be forced to submit to the ICC, thereby establishing a precedent against other sovereign states? (Libya is not an ICC member but the U.N. Security Council conferred jurisdiction on it, supported by the Obama administration’s naïve enthusiasm for multilateralism.) ICC advocates worry that successful defiance by Libya will accelerate a growing challenge to their larger plans for global governance, in which the ICC is a crown jewel.

In a closely related development, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) acquitted two Serbian officials charged with directing Bosnian Serb paramilitary campaigns against Muslims in the 1990s that resulted in terrible human-rights abuses. The ICTY and a sister court established after the Rwanda genocide were, in effect, precursors of the ICC, which was intended to be their permanent successor.

By limiting the theory of “command responsibility,” the ICTY has dramatically restricted the ability of prosecutory zealots to reach to the very top political leaders of a country, even without conclusive evidence. One major goal of ICC advocates was always to deter and constrain America from what they saw as its excessively free-wheeling actions. Not for them the argument that democratic governments are responsible to their own citizens and constitutions; they wanted accountability to the self-important, high-minded people who advocate “international norms” regardless of democratic legitimacy.

Whatever the limitations of Libya’s current government — and there are many — the outcome of this seemingly distant dispute is important for the United States. Are countries sovereign on such issues, or sovereign only if the ICC allows it? That is why what happens to Saif Gadhafi might someday matter to a president of the United States.

John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

1 Comment

  • Danny Hurley

    Are you sure it’s not more to do with Saifs British connections (Tony Blair, Lord Mandelson, Nathaniel Rothschild, London School of Economics), than fabricated and trumoed up human rights abuses? Im sure some within the Libyan council are aware of the situation!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.