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Friday, June 1, 2012

Libya says it is ready to try Gaddafi loyalists



At the beginning of May, I wrote about the challenges surrounding Libya’s June 18 National Assembly elections. At the time, there was significant confusion over a proposed election law that would have banned political parties based on religion, ethnicity, or tribe. Since then, the National Transitional Council (NTC) has scrapped the law, but the elections could still be postponed. Last week, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the NTC, announced that the transitional government may delay the elections while some would-be candidates appeal their disqualifications in court (in February, Libya finalized a fairly complex set of eligibility laws for the National Assembly).


As we’ve seen in Egypt, questions of candidate eligibility close to an election can spark confusion. Libya’s pool of candidates for the National Assembly is already large and unwieldy—over 4,000 candidates have registered, including more than 2,600 independent candidates. Libya’s lack of many basic institutions, such as a constitution and an independent judiciary, compounds the confusion since it is not clear how decisions on matters like candidate eligibility are made. From my perspective, this is all the more reason for Libya to hold elections in a timely manner and begin building up the country’s political infrastructure. A potential delay adds to the likelihood that ongoing civil unrest will continue to foment. Moreover, risk-averse companies will continue to sit on the sidelines of Libya’s economy until a government is formed. Already, talk of delay has Libyans grumbling about a possible power grab by the NTC, whose legitimacy as a governing body is declining by the day.


The trials are being seen as a test of the new government's ability to try higher-profile Gaddafi loyalists and family members, including his son, Saif al-Islam - who could yet be tranferred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.


"The trial of Buzeid Dorda and the other symbols of the former regime will begin on June 5 in a courthouse in Tripoli," Prosecutor-General Abdul Azizi al-Hassadi told Reuters.


Dorda, who was arrested last September in Tripoli, would be the first senior Gaddafi official put on trial in Libya since a popular revolution ousted the former government last year.


A transitional government appointed in November to lead Libya to elections is struggling to impose order on the myriad armed groups that toppled Gaddafi last year.


The government has been keen to try Gaddafi's family members and loyalists at home, but human rights activists worry that a weak central government and a lack of rule of law could rob them of the right to a fair trial.


If the International Criminal Court rules Libya is unwilling or unable to try Saif al-Islam, who is accused of crimes against humanity over the killing of civilian protesters, it says it will take jurisdiction of the case.


Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's most prominent son, was captured by militia fighters in November.


Dorda had been with Gaddafi since he first seized power in a 1969 coup. He was known as a technocrat, and not an intelligence officer by training. Libyans do not associate him with some of the earlier and bloodiest periods in Gaddafi's autocracy such as the 1980s. He is believed to have taken on his job in 2009.
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