The Libyan authorities have repeatedly delayed the start of his trial, which is now expected to begin in May. Part of the problem is that he remains in detention in Zintan, an area where the government in Tripoli has only limited influence.
Heller says that the fact that the suspect still remains effectively beyond the reach of central government is the clearest indication that Libya is not in any shape to try figures like him and Senussi.
“In its submission, Libya admits that it is still unable to get hold of Saif [al-Islam], and that failure is due to the unavailability of its national judicial system in Zintan, which is under the control of the militia holding Saif [al-Islam],” Heller said.
He pointed out that Libya had drawn out its admissibility challenge at the ICC for nearly nine months, and urged the pre-trial chamber to rule it “once and for all”.
“I have no doubt that over the long-run Libya can build an effective criminal justice system, but the question is – in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, as the authorities are trying to reconstruct a legal system that was largely co-opted and destroyed by the Gaddafis – can they hold a fair trial of two of the most important figures representing the previous regime?” Heller asked.
In Libya, though, there is a great appetite for any trials of Gaddafi-era figure to take place inside the country.
“From the Libyans’ perspective, they feel a very strong sovereign right to be able to hold their own trials. They have fought, died and bled in order to earn this right – and we [the international community] have a moral obligation to help them,” said Mike Newton, a professor of the practice of law at Vanderbilt Law School in the United States,
Newton argues that this desire to see justice done makes it imperative for external assistance for focus on supporting judicial reform and institution-building.
“What we need is lean and focused assistance to select ministries,” Newton said. “Libya needs things like forensic experts, small teams of five or ten prosecutors and judges. [There should be] an exchange programme that can work alongside or inside the ministries. At the moment, we are not doing this at all.”
Blake Evans-Pritchard is an IWPR trainer and contributor in The Hague.
(Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting)