Will the arrest warrants issued for Colonel Gaddafi, his son Seif and brother-in-law Abdullah Sanussi by the International Criminal Court bring justice, or hinder the search for peace?

In the early days of the uprising in Libya, there was much talk of Colonel Gaddafi going into exile in a friendly country – Uganda and Zimbabwe were mentioned. But Uganda has ratified the Rome Statute, which means that under international law it would be obliged to surrender the Colonel to the ICC. (Interestingly, a few years back, Col Gaddafi tried to get African leaders to ‘de-ratify’ to statute, but with little success.)

16 libya 620x3501 Libya: Indicting the Colonel
Yet, recent history suggests that an indictment doesn’t necessarily make exile impossible. In the last year, Djibouti and Kenya – both signatories – have hosted President Omar al Bashir of Sudan, who has also been indicted by the ICC. The ICC prosecutor grumbled, but it didn’t make any difference.

Many thought the indictment of President Omar al Bashir would impede negotiations for peace deal in Darfur.

“Pursuing an arrest warrant against a head of state is tantamount to demanding regime change, which is in contradiction to the international strategy of negotiating with the Sudan Government to achieve peace and democracy,” wrote Alex de Waal of the human rights organisation Justice Africa.

But the conflict in Darfur appears to have run its course irrespective of the warrant for the President’s arrest.

“It’s a false dichotomy,” says John Ryle, Director of the Rift Valley Institute.

“You can have peace without justice, but whose peace and for how long? And can you have peace without truth? Even if people don’t get arraigned, it’s a recognition for the victims of oppressive regimes that they have suffered and someone is responsible.”

The people I met in Benghazi in March will welcome indictments. Abdullah Sanussi is blamed for the 1996 massacre at Abu Salim prison, in which 1200 men were killed.

Abu Salim is too long ago to be mentioned in any ICC indictment – it happened before the court was invented – but protests by the Abu Salim families triggered the uprising in Libya this year.

Colonel Gaddafi will not be arrested while he remains “Brother Leader” in Tripoli, and the judicial process has some way to go.

“The ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber must now review the information submitted by the prosecutor to determine whether to grant the request,” explains Human Rights Watch. “The Pre-Trial Chamber judges will issue warrants if they are satisfied that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the persons have committed the crimes alleged.”