The international Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has announced that it will seek the arrest Muammar Gaddafi for crimes linked to the brutal suppression of demonstrations against his 42-year rule. I do not question the violations committed by Gaddafi. However, I remain uneasy about the criteria used to determine which dictators are prosecuted. The world is crowded with such leaders accused of crimes against humanity. In nearby Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is accused of killing hundreds of protesters and, in Iran, thousands of protesters have been arrested — some executed and others raped or tortured. Even in the United States, we have officials who are accused of war crimes in the use of torture. The point is not to suggest an equality or comparable likeness in the alleged crimes of Libya and the United States. Rather, there remains a concern over selective enforcement in ICC actions.
Critics of universal jurisdiction and the ICC have raised such concerns over the arbitrary basis for such action. The ICC did nothing until other countries lined up against Gaddafi. I share the concerns over the criteria used to pick out leaders or officials for such prosecutions. Once again, I hold no brief for Gaddafi. However, what is the objective standard to pick among the world’s tyrants in this case? What prevents the ICC from simply picking those leaders who are unpopular with Western countries while doing little with other tyrants?
Here the ICC is rather belatedly seeking the prosecute for decades of authoritarian rule. It did not see much of a basis to act after Libya’s sponsorship of the Pan Am terrorist attack. Now it is relying on former officials who participated in the regime’s years of abuse. Some of these officials now admit to sponsoring such attacks like the one with Pan Am — despite their earlier denials and service to the regime. It was only when Gaddafi started killing Libyans in the streets that they suddenly became humanitarians.