What ICC Action on Libya Really Means

The ICC prosecutor offered his first public remarks since the Security Council authorized him to investigate alleged crimes against humanity in Libya last week.  He named Qaddafi by name and listed several family members and associates who will come under initial investigation. Remember, the ICC is a court of law. And war crimes investigations tend to be more complicated than regular criminal investigations because commanders must be linked to crimes committed by their subordinates.   Another complicating factor here is that investigators are not likely to have access to Libya until the fighting stops.

But mark my words, if he is still alive, Qaddafi will be sitting in the dock in the Hague within the year.

So why am I so confident that this ICC action means Qaddafi will end up in The Hague?  As opposed to the other time that a head of state has come under investigation by the ICC (Sudan’s Omar Bashir) this time around,  there is full unanimity in the Security Council–and basically, the entire international community minus Venezuela–that Qaddafi has lost all legitimacy as ruler of Libya.  Remember, the ICC cannot execute its own warrants. It requires the cooperation of its member states and international community at large to deliver the accused to a courtroom in the Hague.

If ever he steps foot outside of Libya, he’ll likely be arrested.  And if rebels capture him, well, there is a courtroom chair waiting with his name on it.

Finally, it is worth noting how this action may serve as a deterrent to heads of state who might think that they can get away with firing on crowds of their own people.  Presumably, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh is watching this very closely.