Libya’s Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib has pledged to conduct a fair trial for Saif Al Islam al Qadhafi, captured on Saturday, switching on an intense debate about the capacity of his country, which has multiple and fractious centers of power, to deliver justice based on rule of law.
At a late evening press conference on Saturday, held in Zintan, a staunch anti-Qadhafi stronghold, west of capital Tripoli, Mr. Keib announced: "I want to assure our people and all nations of the world that Saif and those with him will be given a fair trial, with the guarantees of local and international law."
The Prime Minister addressed the media after Mr. Qadhafi, son of slain Libyan leader Muamaar Qadhafi had been airlifted to Zintan following his capture. Qadhafi's son, viewed for some years as the former leader’s possible successor was apparently seized outside the oasis town of Awbari, just before he, along with a small loyalist group was set to dash across the Libyan border, possibly into Tunisia.
Despite Mr. Keib’s assurances, there are fears that in a trial handled by Libya’s new rulers, who have assumed power after a bitter civil war against Qadhafi forces, there was high risk that Mr. Qadhafi would face death penalty. Alternatively, Mr. Qadhafi’s life would be spared if the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is not constituted to award death penalty, steers the trial. In June, the ICC had indicted along with his father, Mr. Qadhafi and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi on charges of crimes against humanity following a crackdown against anti-government protesters.
Libya’s interim rulers have already hinted darkly that Mr.Qadhafi was likely to be charged with crimes that, under the Libyan system of justice, carry the death sentence. Reuters quoted Mohammed al-Alagy, the interim justice minister as saying: "He (Mr. Qadhafi) has instigated others to kill, has misused public funds, threatened and instigated and even took part in recruiting and bringing in mercenaries." Mr. Alagy affirmed that if convicted of these charges, Mr. Qadhafi could be executed.
On Saturday, Mr.Keib was less than enthusiastic about shifting Mr. Qadhafi from Zintan, a town brimming with raucous armed factions, to the relative security of capital Tripoli. "We trust their (Zintan factions') ability to take care of this," he said. “They will keep him in peace, and take care of him, unlike how he treated our people."
It was fighters from Zintan that apparently had assumed a leading role in capturing Mr. Qadhafi. New York Times is reporting that after tracking his movement in the desert for several weeks, Zintan fighters, on learning that Mr.Qadhafi was breaking out for a border exit, intercepted his caravan. Mr. Qadhafi was captured on foot after he deserted his attacked vehicle. On board the plane that brought him to Zintan, Mr. Qadhafi showed a traveling Reuters reporter, injuries to his now bandaged fingers, which, he said, had been sustained a month ago during the course of a NATO operation.
During his visit to Zintan, Mr-Keib said that the Qadhafi era had finally ended with the latest capture. “Now we can build a new Libya,” he acclaimed, congratulating “all, men, women and children” of Libya.
Under the overhang of the summary executions in October, of Qadhafi and his other son Muttasim, international human rights groups have quickly weighed in to seek ICC’s control over Mr. Qadhafi’s forthcoming trial. Amnesty International has called for Mr. Qadhafi’s immediate transfer to the ICC. Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said that Libyan authorities “will send an important message that there’s a new era in Libya, marked by the rule of law, by treating Saif al-Islam humanely and surrendering him to the ICC”.