Seif al-Islam, the ICC – Human Rights Justice and the Arab Spring

Last night came word from Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, the 39-year-old son of Muammar al-Qadhafi had been arrested and that the ICC had communicated its arrest warrant to the Libya Interim Governing Council.

Were Seif al-Islam to be turned over to the Hague, he would be the first of the Arab Spring’s fallen dictators and their families to face justice at the world court for crimes against humanity. Ben Ali in Tunisia fled with his family to Saudi Arabia, Mubarak, his sons Gamal and Alaa are in a cage in a military court in Cairo. Before them other dictators and their sons met more gruesome fates: Saddam was hanged after a trial that many international observers considered problematic at best and his two sons, Qusay and Uday were found and killed by US forces in their Mosul safe house. Uday was a psychopathic playboy, whose brutality even shocked his own father. Thanks to Dominic Cooper and the new film “The Devil’s Double,” his deeds are now the stuff of popular culture.

If Seif al-Islam does go, it would represent an important moment in the fuller integration of Arab societies into global human rights and international justice norms. Through the instrument of an ICC indictment, Qadhafi’s war – and Seif al-Islam’s part in it – on his own people was declared a crime against humanity, that is against our humanity. To close the circle, the Libyans should now transfer those indicted to the ICC. This reciprocity is crucial if the court is to have any authority as it unseals indictments against other kings and dictators who have turned on their own people.

I understand fully the desire to try him at home, of putting him on display like Mubarak and his spawn. No matter how guilty Seif al-Islam is held by the ICC, he won’t face more than a decade or so in a luxurious Northern European prison. It doesn’t seem like enough now. But the value of foregoing what amounts to revenge for participation in an international system of justice will have the benefit of drawing concrete distinctions between a new democratic and rights-recognizing Libya and the brutal police state of his father.

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