Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Libya: Asylum for Saadi Gaddafi by Niger points to a broken Rule of Law

First Published in: Dunia Magazine

Saadi Gaddafi, third son of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the ousted and slained long-time leader of Libya, has reportedly been granted asylum on "humanitarian grounds" by one of Libya's neighbors - the Republic of Niger, a landlocked country in west Africa. Although one of the poorest countries in the world, Niger seems to know something about human rights and the international law principle of not returning asylum seekers to countries where they might be persecuted, tortured or killed. The country's decision to grant Saadi asylum points to a broken rule of law in a "liberated" Libya.

When opposition forces, backed by NATO, stormed Tripoli during the historic 2011 pro-democracy uprising, Muammar Gaddafi, members of his family and his close associates reportedly fled the city that fell without much resistance. As pressure mounted on the 42-year-old regime, some members of the Gaddafi family fled across Libya's borders into neighboring countries.

Some Gaddafis, including Aisha, the only daughter of the Muammar Gaddafi and his wife, fled to Algeria. Saadi Gaddafi, a businessman, former professional soccer player and third son of Muammar Gaddafi fled south to Niger.

The authorities in Niger decided to grant Saadi asylum - less than a month after his father and brother were illegally killed by opposition fighters in Sirte. (It is worthy to remember that the murdered Gaddafis were treated with dishonor even in death, as their bloodied bodies were displayed like trophies for a couple of days, in a meat store in Misrata - in violation of Islamic norms).

Saadi is wanted in Libya for alleged crimes committed during the infamous rule of his father, but it is unclear how he would be treated upon return to answer the charges. The world witnessed the treatment received by two members of his family last month, in the hands of opposition fighters.

States are expected to cooperate with each other to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice. In this vein, it is true that Niger was expected to cooperate with the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya - by returning Saadi to face justice for alleged crimes during the Gaddafi era.

However, events in Sirte, Libya, on 20 October 2011, following the capture of Muammar Gaddafi, put the spot light on a broken rule of law in Libya and the NTC's inability and/or unwillingness to guarantee safety and humane treatment of wanted Gaddafi children and Gaddafi supporters in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Disturbing images of the operation that ended an era in Libya, shocked human rights groups, rights advocates and several people across the world... including those with only an iota of respect for human life. Raw video footage from the scene revealed that Gaddafi was captured alive, beaten by an angry mob and killed without due process. Autopsy results later revealed that Gaddafi died as a result of a single gunshot to the head. It remains unclear who pulled the trigger. Even more disturbing is the fact that many Libyans are not interested in calls for the killer to be brought to justice for acting outside the law.

One of Muammar Gaddafi's sons, Muatassim Gaddafi, captured on the same day, was also killed in the custody of opposition forces.

According to human rights groups, many supporters of Gaddafi and black Africans accused of supporting the infamous regime faced persecution, torture and summary killings by anti-Gaddafi forces. The perpetrators of atrocious crimes committed against supporters and perceived supporters of Muammar Gaddafi walk free in a liberated Libya, yet there are loud calls for Gaddafi loyalists to face justice. This double standard undermines "national unity" what justice is all about.

Drawing from events that led to the death of Muammar Gaddafi, it is reasonable to conclude that if returned to Libya as requested by the NTC, Saadi Gaddafi could face "vigilante justice" like his father, brother and other supporters of the deposed regime.

International human rights law demands that individuals seeking asylum with "well-grounded" fear of persecution, torture or any other form of degrading treatment in their country of origin should not be returned. This law protects every asylum seeker, including children of the most ruthless dictators.

Every individual has the right to equal protection of the law.

After watching the gruesome treatment of his father and brother in Sirte on 20 October 2011, Saadi Gaddafi has "well-founded" fears to return home and is entitled to protection by Niger.

Asylum for Saadi on "humanitarian grounds" is therefore in the interest of human rights and in line with international law.

The killing of Muammar Gaddafi did not represent justice and the rule of law. It would have been great to see Gaddafi face his victims in a court of law.

The NTC should focus of building a legal system that works. Investigation and trial of those responsible for the unlawful killing of Muammar Gaddafi and Muatassim Gaddafi is a good place to start. Other crimes, well-documented by organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW), committed during the 8-month-long conflict, by forces loyal to Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi fighters should also be impartially investigated. Perpetrators from both sides should bear the full weight of the law. Failure to show that a liberated Libya respects the rule of law would lead to asylum for many more individuals wanted for crimes committed during the dark years of the Gaddafi regime.

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