Geoffrey Robertson: This evil despot must be brought to justice

Roundup: Media's Take

[Geoffrey Robertson QC is a member of the United Nations Justice Council and author of 'Crimes Against Humanity'.]

Colonel Gaddafi is the worst man left in the world. His bloodstained record of terrorism, torture and mass murder deserves punishment many times over and a people liberated from the moronic tenets of his Green Book might, if they get the chance, string him up in revenge. But the days of hanging dictators from lampposts are over. International justice must take the place of righteous lynch mobs. Alternatively, if Colonel Gaddafi crushes the revolt, it must ensure that he is hunted down should he set foot again outside Libya. The Security Council, disgracefully slow in responding to this crisis, has an urgent duty either to establish an international court to try Gaddafi or (more simply) to require the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate and indict him for the massacre of protesters.

The ICC has been cutting its teeth on a few Congo warlords and gnashing them over Sudan's President Omer Hassan al-Bashir (although its indictment might have prompted yesterday's announcement of his early retirement). Its treaty has now been ratified by 114 nations and the irrational hostility of the Bush era has been replaced by cautious support from President Barack Obama. Libya, of course, is not a member of the ICC (and nor are any other Arab countries except Jordan and Djibouti – a situation which new powers in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere will be advised to change). But Colonel Gaddafi can be brought within the court's jurisdiction by a Security Council direction – as was Mr al-Bashir when the council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC prosecutor.

The ICC could not put Colonel Gaddafi on trial for all the international crimes he's committed before 2002, when its jurisdiction commenced, so he would escape retribution for funding and promoting years of terrorism in Europe and Africa, for his assassination campaign against "stray dogs" (several of his opponents were killed in Britain), for the Lockerbie and French airline bombings, and for arbitrary killings of student dissidents. He can, however, be fixed with command responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed by his troops over the past few days as they have shot and killed innocent civilians in a number of towns and cities...

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