(Adds reaction from Libyan rebels in seventh paragraph, Qaddafi’s lawyer in 12th paragraph.)
June 28 (Bloomberg) -- The indictment of Muammar Qaddafi on charges of crimes against humanity leaves the Libyan dictator almost out of options.
The International Criminal Court yesterday issued arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi and military intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. The three men are wanted for killing, injuring, arresting and imprisoning hundreds of civilians during anti-regime protests that began in February.
“This is an instance where an indictment may hasten, not slow down, his demise by motivating more defections,” said Mark Quarterman, director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Three months ago, countries such as Uganda publicly offered Qaddafi political asylum. Since then, Africa’s self-proclaimed “king of kings” has rapidly lost friends in the continent.
“It will be pretty difficult to have that exile option anymore,” said Louise Arimatsu, associate fellow in international law at the Chatham House international-affairs institute in London.
The U.S. and its European allies say Qaddafi’s grip on the country that holds Africa’s biggest oil reserves is nearing its end as economic pressure and NATO-led strikes on high-level military command and control centers erode his ability resist the spreading insurgency. The court, in The Hague, Netherlands, does not have police powers. That would have to be done by the Libyan rebels or by another nation’s police if he leaves Libya.
Left to Fate
“After the ICC ruling, there is no place for talking with someone who is considered a criminal domestically and internationally,” Mahmoud Shammam, a spokesman for the rebels’ leadership council, told reporters today in Paris. “He must be left to his fate.”
The U.S. joined NATO allies such as France and Italy yesterday in praising the ICC’s decision. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the indictment was further evidence that “time is rapidly running out” for Qaddafi and his henchmen.
While “we hear lots of reports of feelers this way and that way, emissaries this way and that way,” Qaddafi needs to first end the violence and step down from power, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.
What exile options remain for Qaddafi will now be strictly limited to a handful of countries that did not ratify the Rome treaty that set up the court in 2002, according to Maurizio Massari, a spokesman for the Italian Foreign Ministry.
“It’s highly unlikely that Qaddafi will let himself get arrested so he will be looking for another way out,” Massari said in a telephone interview.
Qaddafi has immunity as head of state based on international customary law, Themba Langa, a South African lawyer representing Qaddafi and his government, said in an e- mailed statement from Johannesburg today. The ICC has no jurisdiction in Libya as the country never signed or ratified the Rome treaty, he said.
Notable non-ICC African countries include Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, and Zimbabwe. Chad, Djibouti, and Kenya are among the 31 African countries that ratified the ICC yet have ignored their obligations.
In exploring his limited options, Qaddafi has a few recent precedents he can look to, as he mulls his next step.
Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic was indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal in 1999. Yet he was not arrested by Belgrade authorities until 2001, after the U.S. demanded the Yugoslav government capture the former president or lose economic aid. Milosevic died in prison in March 2006, four years into his trial.
In Africa, two indicted war criminals suffered different fates.
Liberian President Charles Taylor was granted asylum in 2003 by Nigeria as part of a negotiated end to a 14-year civil war. About three years later, the Nigerian authorities buckled to outside pressure and handed him over. Initially flown to Sierra Leone for trial, he was eventually moved to a Dutch prison to stand trial in The Hague.
Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC, charged with genocide. Bashir has been able to travel, including to ICC member states such as Egypt and Chad, which have refused to hand him over. Still, his travel options have narrowed as human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch pressed countries to withdraw invitations or arrest him on arrival.
“In Taylor’s case, he was thrown out of power while with Bashir, he still enjoys legitimacy in the region,” said Quarterman, who was chief of staff to the UN under-secretary- general for legal affairs and legal counsel.
Celebrations erupted in the streets of the besieged Libyan rebel-held city of Misrata yesterday as news spread of the arrest warrant. Several thousand people, many bearing the Libyan rebel tricolor, poured into the central Liberation Square while cars hooted their horns in a long procession around the square.
“Qaddafi is wanted as a war criminal so everybody is proud,” said Farouk Bin Hameda, a bearded English translator standing amid the crowd.
--With assistance from Jurjen van de Pol in Amsterdam, Clare Stephens in Parkhouse, Gregory Viscusi in Paris and Nasreen Seria in Johannesburg. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow
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