Libya’s ICC-swerving behaviour over Saif and Senussi will not deliver justice

“Abdullah al-Senussi will have a fair trial according to international standards for human rights, the rights from which Libyans were deprived.” So said Libya’s Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib yesterday, after his country took receipt of Senussi after his extradition from Mauritania.

Right. Fine words. And a perfectly understandable dig at the lamentable human rights record of Libya under Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi when Senussi was head of military intelligence.

So Senussi is back in Libya to face justice (not, as the rather too light-hearted headline at Belfasttelegraph.co.uk had it, to “face the music”). Senussi can be presumed to know where the bodies are buried. Maybe literally in the case of Gaddafi’s Libya, with its 40-plus years of killings, disappearances and wholesale prison massacres.

So getting him back to Libya is good for human rights and good for justice. Right? Well not quite. It’s obviously to be welcomed that Senussi is not being sheltered from justice by another country (as with someone like Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, wanted by the International Criminal Court but still able to travel fairly freely). But Bashir’s compatriot Senussi (interestingly Senussi is Sudanese by nationality, not Libyan) is not being handed over to the ICC despite a longstanding arrest warrant from The Hague court.

This is a major problem. Post-Gaddafi Libya is wracked by rampant militia groups operating above the law. As Amnesty has shown in numerous reports (here and here for example), for the past year or more Libya’s hundreds of militias - or thuwwar - have been committing acts of torture, killing those they perceive to be former Gaddafi supporters, driving entire populations of towns out of their homes and running their own unofficial jails. In some cases militia members have stormed into courtrooms and intimidated prosecutors and defence lawyers.

So it’s in this context that Libya is now proposing to try Abdullah al-Senussi, a man who is extremely unlikely to get either a fair trial or one which won’t see him receiving a death sentence. It’s shades of Saddam Hussein’s unfair trial (and disgusting botched execution) all over again.

The lawyer Geoffrey Robertson also makes the Saddam comparison and his strongly-worded denunciation of the ICC-swerving behaviour of Libya on Senussi and Saif Gaddafi is well worth a read. (He also makes a good point about how Syria’s President Assad should be referred to and tried at the ICC and not, as it could well turn out, put before a kangaroo court in Damascus by a vengeful opposition group). I would also add that Mauritania should be taken to task for holding Senussi since March and then apparently caving in to Libyan pressure to send him Tripoli not to The Hague.

So what next?  In the absence of serious diplomatic pressure on Libya over its behaviour, it seems it’s being left to the lawyers and human rights organisations to press for fair and wide-ranging justice measures rather than hole-in-the-wall, string-‘em-up stuff we’re likely to see in Libya. Perhaps when the UK government realises that there’s going to be little serious investigation of Senussi over Lockerbie it might dawn on them that it could be worth pressing a little harder for an ICC trial …

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