The choice: justice or ending Libya's bloodshed

A chorus of international leaders is calling on Gaddafi to leave, possibly to exile in Africa. But there, he would be safe from prosecution for his crimes.

'He will never leave Libya,' an official working for Colonel Gaddafi told a British reporter on Tuesday.

He meant that Gaddafi would never leave Libya alive. The dictator has promised 'martyrdom' for himself and his people – he intends to stay on until death, if necessary, even if it means a bloody final showdown.

But the rest of the world wants to make him change his mind, fast.

The Colonel's military machine has control of the western part of Libya, which could indicate a stalemate between government and rebel forces. United Nations-sanctioned military action to protect rebels and civilians from Gaddafi's troops has been successful so far, but will not, on its own, resolve the situation.

To avoid a long, costly conflict with a high body count, the international community is looking for alternatives.

World leaders have lined up to call on Gaddafi to abandon power. Meanwhile, Italy is trying to make exile arrangements, with Uganda the latest country to offer a safe haven for the fleeing dictator.

Gaddafi is still a very rich man, and if he spends the rest of his life as the guest of another country, it will probably be in comfort. Many will find this less than fair.

And there is another consideration.

The International Criminal Court, which has the power to prosecute cases of suspected genocide, human rights abuses and war crimes, has already begun an investigation. By May, it is expected to produce warrants against Gaddafi, his sons and leading members of the regime.

Many countries do not recognise the Court's powers, however, and if Gaddafi goes into exile, it will be somewhere the long arm of international law does not reach.

Douglas Alexander, Labour's spokesman on foreign affairs, took a hard line yesterday: 'I do not think that heads of state should be able to murder, indiscriminately, their own people and not have to fear the rule of law catching up with them in foreign jurisdictions.'

Deterrent effect?
Human Rights campaigners have hailed the Gaddafi case as a potential 'pivotal moment' in developing a system of international justice that might genuinely call abusers to account, and discourage powerful rulers from exploiting their position.

An American ambassador said the UN decision to refer the Libya case to prosecutors so swiftly would 'send a very clear message that the world is watching.' This had deterred some Gaddafi loyalists from committing crimes, he added.

But if Gaddafi believes he will face trial, he could fight to the death, destroying many more Libyan lives in the process.

You Decide

  1. Is it better to insist on justice even if it means a longer, bloodier civil war?
  2. If a leader abuses the human rights of his own people, is it any business of the international community?


  1. Draw up teams to prosecute and defend Colonel Gaddafi. Write speeches and lines of questioning for a trial. Who do you think will win?
  2. Research and write about other war crimes trials in history. You could start with the Nuremberg trials of senior Nazis at the end of WWII, or the trial of Charles Taylor. Punishment, deterrent or both?

Some People Say...

“International justice is always victor's justice.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is the International Criminal Court a permanent fixture?
Yes, since 2002. It investigates and prosecutes war crimes and human rights abuses. After appalling violence against civilians in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, temporary tribunals successfully investigated and prosecuted senior politicians and middle-ranking military officers.
Sounds like progress!
But many countries, including powerful members of the United Nations Security Council like the US and China, refuse to recognise the court. Only 150 countries have signed the Treaty and only 114 have ratified it. This means there are still places to hide.
What next then?
There are signs of hope. Amnesty International says the UN Security Council decision to unanimously refer the Libya case to the ICC was a 'historic precedent'.

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