Gadhafi indictment hinders peace: African Union

The African Union says the international indictment of Moammar Gadhafi "seriously complicates" the organization's efforts to broker a settlement of the Libyan civil war.
The International Criminal Court indictment against Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi accuses him of orchestrating the killing, injuring and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the uprising to topple him from power. (Canadian Press)

The African Union said Saturday that the international indictment of Moammar Gadhafi "seriously complicates" the organization's efforts to broker a settlement of the Libyan civil war, explaining its decision the day before to disregard the arrest warrant against the Libyan leader.

The 53-member AU had voted late Friday to ignore the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant against Gadhafi for alleged crimes against humanity, dealing a serious blow to the tribunal's chances of ever putting him on trial.

AU executive Jean Ping told reporters that the ICC is "discriminatory" and only goes after crimes committed in Africa, while ignoring those committed by Western powers in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The AU's decision also stated that the indictment against Gadhafi, issued Monday, "seriously complicates" efforts by the organization to find a solution to the Libyan crisis.

"With this in mind, we recommend that the member states do not co-operate with the execution of this arrest warrant," said the motion.

If countries in Africa abide by the AU's recommendation, it opens the possibility that Gadhafi could avoid prosecution by seeking refuge on the soil of his neighbours.

That has been the case for ex-president Hissène Habré, who is accused of thousands of political killings and the systematic torture of his opponents when he ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, before fleeing to Senegal. He has yet to face a trial even though Senegal agreed in 2006 to create a special court to try him.

Avoiding arrest is less likely for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC, in 2009. The African Union denounced that indictment and asked that the arrest warrant be deferred so that peace could be reached in Darfur, but members didn't vote to ignore it. Bashir has been able to repeatedly visit friendly countries like Kenya with impunity.

ICC denounced as neo-colonial

A total of 31 states in Africa are signatories to the International Criminal Court, representing nearly a third of the countries where its mandate applies. However, there has been increasing malaise in Africa over the ICC, which has been denounced by the continent's entrenched rulers as an instrument of neo-colonialism.

All the ICC's current investigations and prosecutions are of Africans. The court's prosecutor notably dismissed requests to look into the 2003 invasion of Iraq for possible war crimes by Western powers and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for crimes by leaders on both sides.

Diplomats present during this week's AU summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, said that although they support the court, they agree with the AU's claim that the warrant against Gadhafi complicates effort to end the crisis in Libya.

"If he knows he has nowhere to go, he will fight till the end. He would rather die than be tried," according to a Western diplomat who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim welcomed the AU's decision not to enforce the ICC warrant, repeating the government's position that the court is an "imperialist" institution that only targets African leaders, but not Western officials.

"The ICC is a European Guantanamo Bay. It's only against the African leaders. It never deals with the crimes committed by the United States of America," Ibrahim said, "and by the European powers … everywhere in the world."

With files from The Associated Press