Libyans must investigate Gaddafi death

By Rebecca Lowe

Leading international lawyers have joined calls for an investigation into the death of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, shot dead following his capture in his hometown of Sirte on 20 October.

Muammar Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi

The United Nations Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), the US and Russia have all thrown their support behind an inquiry, amid concerns Gaddafi and his son Mutassim were killed unlawfully after being dragged from a sewage pipe by opposition forces.

Speaking to the International Bar Association, Justice Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said: ‘Justice demands that people, no matter how evil, and no matter what the charges against them, receive a fair trial. Sometimes, and especially in war, that is not always possible.

Related links

‘Having said that, it is important for the people of Libya that the circumstances of Gaddafi's death are determined. I support the calls made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the US Government and others.’

For Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs at the UN, a crucial factor in the inquiry would be whether the National Transitional Council (NTC) gave clear instructions to the rebel fighters concerning Gaddafi’s capture.

‘If clear instructions were given, it may be difficult to hold the NTC accountable for what transpired,’ he said. ‘However, if no instructions were circulated, it will reflect on the performance of the NTC.’

 Hans Corell

Hans Corell

An investigation would help to clarify many of the conflicting reports that have circulated about Gaddafi’s fate. Acting NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril claimed he had been fatally wounded amid cross-fire en route to hospital, while other evidence suggested he was shot by fighters soon after capture.

Libya's official pathologist said bullet wounds to the head and stomach appeared to be the cause of Gaddafi’s death. Videos of his final moments show him being dragged through the streets covered in blood while multiple shots ring out in the background.

At one point Gaddafi is heard pleading with his captors: ‘Do you know right from wrong?’

Many activists are now concerned that the truth behind Gaddafi’s rule will never be exposed. David Tolbert, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, stressed that ‘vengeance is not justice’.

He added: ‘Having Gaddafi face justice and being held accountable for his crimes, whether at the International Criminal Court or in Libya, would have allowed for an accounting for his actions and provided a measure of justice to victims.’

  ‘Justice demands that people, no matter how evil, and no matter what the charges against them, receive a fair trial.'

Richard Goldstone
Former Chief Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) 

David Michael Crane, founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, who indicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes committed in the 1990s, called for a neutral body to be established to investigate the death.

‘The unlawful killing of another human being is a homicide,’ he said. ‘Such an action could only be justified in self-defence. He was executed without trial by exuberant and undisciplined rebel forces.’

IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis recommended that the Libyan authorities seek international assistance to conduct an impartial, credible investigation. Two separate approaches could be taken, he said: an inquiry to determine the facts of what happened and an inquiry into individual culpability.

 Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis

‘I think the Libyan authorities could go a long way in reversing the negative impression they gave in suggesting that Gaddafi was killed in self-defence,’ he said. ‘Clearly the evidence suggests something quite different.’

James Goldston, founding Executive Director of the Open Society Justice Project, stressed that it was ‘essential’ for the Libyan people to know how their former leader died.

NATO governments should assist the inquiry, he said – and the US Government should lead by example by disclosing information about the death of Osama bin Laden.

‘The transition in Libya offers a significant opportunity for the Libyan authorities to establish a new government grounded in the rule of law and human rights. This requires investigation and publication of all facts regarding – and prosecution of perpetrators of – crimes committed during the course of the conflict.’

 Muammar Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi's picture underfoot

In June the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for the former leader, his son Saif al-Islam and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi on counts of crimes against humanity.

It is yet to be confirmed whether al-Islam and al-Senussi remain at large or have also been captured or killed.

In an interview with the BBC, Prime Minister Jibril said he ‘wished’ Gaddafi had been captured alive. ‘I want to know why he did this to the Libyan people,’ he said. ‘I wish I were his prosecutor in his trial.’