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LIBYA: Human rights lawyer on Kadafi warrant impact on Arab Spring

May 17, 2011 |  4:13 am

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After the International Criminal Court prosecutor's requested arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, son Seif Islam and brother-in-law Abdullah Sanussi for crimes against humanity, Babylon & Beyond spoke with Widney Brown, a human rights lawyer and senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International in London. She helped lobby for passage of the ICC's Rome Statute in 1988 that covers such warrants.

Q: How significant is the prosecutor's request for these ICC warrants?

A: It’s a good sign that being a head of state is not seen as a protection against having a warrant issued when there are signs you have broken the law.

Q: But how effective are these warrants, given that other embattled leaders -- for instance, President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir in Sudan -- have had warrants issued against them and remained in power, traveling the world without being arrested?

A: [Bashir's] world has definitely gotten smaller. But it is distressing to see the number of countries that seem very happy they don’t have to arrest him. He’s being very careful about where he’s going. It’s not a good sign that you can have an outstanding warrant for a year and nothing’s been done.

Q: The warrant for Kadafi would only cover crimes committed since the current conflict began Feb. 15. Could past crimes be included, too?

A: What you have also with Col. Kadafi is not only the crimes he is alleged to have committed in the conflict now, but the crimes he committed in the past, some of which are ongoing. The prosecutor might be able to look at ongoing crimes. It’s not as if there’s going to be a dearth of things to investigate.

Q: What would be considered "ongoing crimes?"

A: For instance, enforced disappearances.

Q: Would that be similar to those disappeared in South America's "dirty wars" in the 1970s?

A: Yes, like in South America's dirty wars. That was when the term was created, when governments found it very effective to disappear people. Quite frankly, that’s what’s happening in Syria now. Why they’re being rounded up is pretextual or illegal. They’re being held incommunicado, they don’t have lawyers and we think they’re being subjected to torture and disappeared into a black hole. Things are worse now in Syria than they were in Libya when they made the Kadafi referral.

Q: So you and Amnesty officials think the ICC should pursue warrants against Syrian officials as well?

A: For the ICC to maintain its legitimacy, it needs to maintain its consistency and not irreparably politicize justice. We have called on the ICC to make a referral on Syria, to refer the situation to the prosecutor.

Q: Why Syria and not other countries in the region, such as Bahrain, Yemen or Egypt?

A: When the military is really turning on civilians in a systematic way, that certainly is a trigger to say this could be crimes against humanity. It’s not to say we’re not looking at evidence we’re  gathering in places like Yemen, Bahrain and northern Iraq to see what evidence there is. All these countries didn’t ratify the Rome Statute. So you want to go to the U.N. with really good evidence. You don't want it to be a case where they cannot defend their own actions in terms of making the referral.

Q: How many countries in the region have not ratified the Rome Statute that allows for these warrants to be issued?

A: The only country that ratified it in the Middle East was Jordan. Egypt and Tunisia have said they will, but they have not deposited instruments of ratification with the U.N. yet.

The interim Egyptian authorities have also said they will investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes during the revolution.

Q: But how can you guarantee they will investigate fairly when a new president has not even been elected?

A: If it turns out that the investigation is a sham, then you revisit the case and try to get it before the International Criminal Court. People have a gut feeling that justice is a local concept. They want justice in their own countries and you want to support that. In Egypt, for instance, you want to build a credible justice system because then if they do it right, you’ve helped rebuild a critical institution.

 

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

Photo: A man looks at portraits of people who killed or disappeared under Moammar Kadafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced Monday that he would seek arrest warrants against the Libyan leader, son Seif Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. Credit: Rodrigo Abd /Associated Press.

 

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