At a press conference held on 18 May in The Hague, the International Criminal Court's [ICC] chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced that he was seeking warrants, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1970, for the arrest of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi and his "inner circle". The charges against the three men include "war crimes and crimes against humanity" for their role in the widespread and systematic killings, attacks and political persecution through mass arrests and torture of civilians since unrest began in the North African state in February. The ICC prosecutor's office claims to have uncovered "direct evidence" showing that the accused had personally planned, directed and ordered attacks.
There has been a unanimous and unprecedented response to the situation in Libya by the international community in referring Libya to the ICC and yesterday's announcement was welcomed by many. Indeed, British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a statement with indecent haste on the new development, calling it "a reminder to all in Gaddafi's regime that crimes will not go unpunished and the reach of international justice will be long". He also expressed grave concerns about the continued human rights abuses in the region.
While this warrant application is arguably a step in the right direction for international justice and accountability – and the necessity of bringing Gaddafi and his regime to justice for their terrible crimes is unequivocal – Hague's prompt and decisive reaction in this particular instance reeks of blatant double standards and hypocrisy; look at his stance on the UN report released following its fact-finding mission into similar, well documented crimes perpetrated during the conflict in Gaza in 2008/9. Indeed, the 574 pages of evidence provided by the UN's Goldstone Report compared to the current 72 page ICC report would suggest the former put forward a stronger, more in-depth case.
Hague's statement asserts: "Those responsible for attacks on civilians must be held to account. The international community must fully support the ICC in thoroughly investigating all allegations. I call on all UN Member States, whether parties to the Rome Statute or not, to offer their full co-operation." Hear, hear!
Yet it was just over a year ago that Hague and his party campaigned for election on a platform which promised to change British Universal Jurisdiction laws to ensure that it would be less likely for alleged Israeli war criminals to face justice on British soil; a promise the Tories apparently intend to see through with the draft bill being debated in the House of Lords. Pressure to change the law gained momentum when a British court issued an arrest warrant for the former Israeli Foreign Minister on the strength of documentary evidence provided by the UN report into the Gaza Conflict which killed over 1400 Palestinians, including 300 children. It concluded that both sides had committed acts that amounted to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. It also concluded that Israeli military planners followed a doctrine aimed deliberately at causing massive damage, destruction and suffering to civilian populations and that grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings by the Israeli military gave rise to individual criminal responsibility.
So, what exactly is it is that so clearly differentiates these two cases in the opinion of the ICC, William Hague and much of the international community? Perhaps it is Gaddafi's intransigent murderous psychosis or the on-going nature of his crimes. However, it was just this weekend that Israeli soldiers opened fire on the peaceful protests staged by Palestinian civilians in commemoration of the Nakba [the Catastrophe] of 1948, killing and wounding dozens. Moreover, the attacks took place on Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territory and could threaten to ignite another war in the region.
This apparent double standard has led many to conclude, very reasonably, that the arm of "international justice" only reaches out in a particular direction. While condemning Gaddafi's actions, a statement by the Secretary General of the Arab National Conference firmly rejected what he saw as ICC interference in Arab affairs toward the implementation of US dictates for the region. He asserted that the ICC's failure to take action against even one in the plethora of US and Zionist crimes forfeited its right to sue any official in an Arab country, whatever their crime. He went on to say that foreign intervention in all its forms was unacceptable and has never been in the interest of the Arab people who are more than capable of reasserting their rights without the intervention of a foreign court which lacks credibility and integrity and implements the will of colonialists and Zionists (who are often one and the same). Libyan officials have also dismissed the ICC action asserting that the court is a "baby of the European Union designed for African politicians and leaders".
However, the fact that the former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic was brought to trial in The Hague cannot be ignored. Neither can the fact that it was not so long ago that Britain, along with the rest of Europe, was willing to forgive the despised Gaddafi for other crimes, state terrorism, etc., in a sordid example of capitalist endeavours to secure geopolitical and economic interests over morality and justice. Alas for him, but it appears that the changing political landscape in the Middle East has rendered Gaddafi an untenable ally and trading partner and thus a legitimate target for "international justice".
Amnesty International has said the international community must not allow justice to appear selective. But for all of William Hague's talk of human rights and an "ethical foreign policy", it appears that for Britain, Europe and beyond, strategic considerations and commercial interests held in common with Israel, will always be at the core of any foreign policy and its implementation.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.