LIBYA: JUSTICE THAT FEELS LIKE REVENGE
Gaddafi's children: (clockwise from top left)
Saif al-Islam, Saif al-Arab, Saadi, Ayesha, Hannibal,
Khamis, Mu'tassim and Muhammad
justice handed after a war is a victor's justice. And it usually
feels more like a payback, rather than justice. The winners judge
and convict, the losers pay, even with their life. And if, as in
Libya, the conflict is particularly brutal, the justice that
follows is even more vindictive. Since April 2014, a tribunal in
Tripoli has carried out a trial against Muammar Gaddafi's
acolytes. They are accused of war crimes, killings and other
On July 28 2015 the tribunal has read out its sentence against the accused: 9 people were sentenced to death, 8 to life in jail, 7 were sentenced to 12 years in prison, 4 to 10 years, 3 to six years, one to 5 years and 4 were acquitted, while a person was confined to a mental hospital. It looks as if the jail terms handed out are proportionate to the crimes committed, after all the trial lasted for more than one year and those found guilty will be able to appeal. It would look like a fair judgment was delivered, but that's not quite the case.
Firstly, a trial that is carried out during an ongoing conflict lacks the adequate serenity on the side of those tasked with the judgment. The accused's rights were also violated, as underlined by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and even the UN's Human Rights Commissioner. Detainees were abused, lawyers were denied access to their clients, the trial was carried out without the presence of the accused.
The legitimacy of the sentence delivered in Tripoli is undermined by yet another circumstance: the government in the Libyan capital, its General Congress, its justice and police departments are not internationally recognized. The sole legitimate government is the one in Tobruk. Therefore, anything decided in Tripoli has no legal value, even internationally.
Let's now look at the death penalties that were handed out.
Seif al Islam is Gaddafi's eldest son, although from his second wife. While his father was in power, he was competing with his brother Mutassim to inherit his dad's place. He was definitely one of the most moderate people in his family. Seif had studied abroad and had a “westernized” vision for the future of Libya. During his tenure he had attempted to democratize the regime and to reduce human rights abuses. He was even in favor of a dialogue with the Libyan opposition and that his why he was on a collision route with the regime's old guard. Seif was not a man of arms. It was the outbreak of the conflict and the rules of the Arab family (whereby the oldest son replaces his father) that forced him down that path. He was never involved in the regime's brutalities. Yet, during the war he had to play a key role and ended up on the accused's stand despite his record. He was captured on November 19, 2011 while fleeing to Niger by Zintan's militias.
Seif al Islam has merely become a symbol and was judged accordingly. The Gaddafi family is now scattered and, after a brief stay in Algeria, his half-brother Mohamed, his brother Hannibal, his sister Aisha and his mother Safiya have taken refuge in Oman. His father and his brothers Mutassim, Khamis, Seif al Arabi all died during the conflict. Another of Gaddafi's sons, Saadi, is also in the hands of those in Tripoli. He was extradited from Niger (following a 2 million dollar donation to local authorities, some sources claim) in March 2014. Saadi was not part of the trial that ended in July, but will be judged on his own. Although he was known for his transgressive behavior, the fights with his wife and his passion for football (he tried and failed in his footballing career), there is little doubt that he will also end up in the death row. A minor symbol of the Gaddafi family, but still a symbol.
Seif al Islam's conviction has also other implications. Firstly, the detainee is held in the jails of the Zintan militias and will not be handed over to those in Tripoli for the death sentence. Furthermore, Zintan is allied to the government in Tobruk and although they allowed for the trial to be carried out in Tripoli, that's as far as it goes.
Abdullah al Senussi
issue is linked to the June 2011 request by the International
Criminal Court in the Hague to try Seif al Islam for crimes
against humanity for having been the “de facto Libyan Prime
Minister”. Seif was accused together with his now defunct father
and his uncle, Abdullah Senussi, although the charges against the
latter were dropped in July 2014. With the credibility of the ICC
at its lowest – even U.S. President Barack Obama held meetings
with the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta wanted by the Court
during his recent trip to Africa – there is yet another
contradiction when it comes to the relationship between the court
in the Hague and Libya. The Libyan lawyer that is handling the
cases is working for both the Tripoli and Tobruk governments.
If Seif will face the firing squad because he is a symbol of the old regime, the same will happen to his uncle Senussi (extradited from Mauritania following a gift to local authorities in September 2012), whose hands are truly stained with blood. Abdullah Senussi was tasked with carrying out Gaddafi's dirty work. A French international arrest warrant was issued under his name for his role in the 1989 UTA flight bomb over Niger (170 victims). Senussi was also the same man responsible for the massacres to quell the uprising inside the Abu Salim prison in 1996 during which over 1.200 people were killed. If Senussi were tried in any part of the world, the least he could get is a life sentence. Now that he's on trial in Tripoli his family has stigmatized the abuses he has been suffering. It is sufficient to compare the picture of when he landed from Mauritania to the one shown during his trial to get a feeling of his treatment behind bars.
The other old regime members convicted to death are Mansour Dhao Ibrahim, who lead the so-called “People Guards” volunteer militias during the civil war and who was in charge of Gaddafi's security (they were arrested together in Sirte), Milad Daman, former director of the Abu Salim prison where torture was widespread, and Abdulhamid Ohida, closely linked to Senussi. The latter are joined by Oweidat Gandour al Nobi (responsible for the administration of the Revolutionary Committees in Tripoli) and Munder Mukhtar al Ghanimy. We will have to wait for the sentence's motivations to understand the crimes these two people were convicted for.
the last two people sentenced to death are two leading figures:
the former Prime Minister Mahmoud al Baghdadi and the former chief
of the External Security Service, Abuzied Durda. Baghdadi was a
Prime Minister from March 2006 until Tripoli's fall in 2011. He
then fled to Tunisia where he was sentenced for illegal
immigration and extradited back to Libya in June 2012 (also in his
case there is talk of a several million dollars donation to Tunis
to hand him back). For those who know how the system worked during
the Jamahiriyah, the PM had no real power, especially when it came
to security or the military. Baghdadi was definitely a loyalist
and held his post not because of his ruthlessness, but rather
because of his servility. To convict him for the dictatorship's
crimes is one of the most blatant cases of victor's justice
turning into mere revenge.
Another man turned into a symbol of the old regime and sentenced to death is Abuzied Durda. He was one of Gaddafi's most trusted allies since the early days of his coup and held a number of civilian, political and diplomatic posts over the decades. Durda was a loyalist, but was never involved in the regime's repression. He was appointed head of the External Security Service because Gaddafi needed a clean up after the violence that had marked the tenure of his predecessor, Moussa Koussa. The irony is that while Durda was sentenced to death for crimes he did not commit, Koussa was welcomed by the British and is now living the good life in Qatar.
Moussa Koussa is just one of the former regime members who should have been on trial in Tripoli and that are instead safe abroad. Top of the list is Khaled Tuhami, head of the Internal Security Service, who now lives in Cairo. It is surprising how neither Tobruk nor Tripoli have ever asked for his extradition, or for his handing over to the ICC. The Tobruk government is filled with for Gaddafi loyalists, but not the one in Tripoli. The latter may be satisfied with the publicity their trial has obtained on international media.