Judicial 'earthquake' at UN a warning to all dictators

AFP, Sunday 27 Feb 2011

Envoys to the UN Security Council have warned dictators that international justice is on their trail

Bahraini anti-government protesters displaying national flagsm, Feb. 25, (AP).
Bahraini anti-government protesters displaying national flagsm, Feb. 25, (AP).

UN Security Council sanctions have boxed in Moammar Gaddafi in his shrinking territory in Tripoli but also warned all dictators that international justice is on their trail, envoys said.

"There is an earthquake and this earthquake has reached New York," said France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud after International Criminal Court refuseniks China, Russia and the United States all voted Saturday to refer the Libya case to the UN-backed tribunal.

The call for a crimes against humanity investigation into the brutal suppression of opposition protests in Libya was added to an arms embargo, a travel ban and assets freeze ordered by the Security Council.

Of the five permanent Security Council nations, only Britain and France are ICC members. It was the first time that fellow council heavyweights China and the United States have voted to refer a case to the court. They abstained when the last case -- the Darfur conflict -- was sent to the ICC in 2005.

Russia, the fifth permanent nation, is not an ICC member but voted for the Darfur resolution.

"A wind of liberty and change is blowing through the Arab world and the Security Council has succeeded in responding to this new era of international relations," said Araud, noting the international community has the "duty" to step in when a government does not protect its own people.

"It is obvious that this referral is going well beyond Libya. it is a warning to all the leaders who could be tempted to use repression against what I have called this wind of change, this wind of liberty."

German Ambassador Peter Wittig also hailed a "historic day" for the Security Council.

"It sends out a clear warning to those perpetrators who have and will commit crimes against humanity," he said, adding that the message intended for Kadhafi's regime "will be heard beyond Libya."

Such comments would normally set alarm bells ringing in countries like China, which is not an ICC member and usually fiercely opposes measures it sees as unwarranted interference that could set a precedent for the future.

But Security Council diplomats highlighted the unity with which its 15 members, under pressure to take action as snipers shot at protesters in Tripoli, passed the measures.

The United States co-sponsored the resolution even though it is not an ICC member.

Washington has traditionally worried that the ICC could start looking into conflicts involving the United States, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

It did not oppose the Darfur investigation, which led to genocide charges against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, and President Barack Obama has urged a closer US relationship with the court.

Richard Dicker, international justice specialist for Human Rights Watch, said the ICC referral had created "a different landscape" in the battle against dictators.

The council vote "showed leaders worldwide that it will not tolerate the vicious repression of peaceful protesters," he said.

But Dicker added that the breakthrough is not yet complete.

"There is an unevenness on this council. The permanent members and the states they protect, be it China protecting Myanmar, be it the United States protecting Israel, enjoy immunity from the International Criminal Court at this time. That needs to change," he told AFP.

"Will it stop similar types of crimes. I wish that were the case. I don't think we are there yet. But this is a roadmark in that direction."

The French envoy also acknowledged doubts.

"I don't know if there will be a tomorrow," Araud said.

"I do hope there will be a tomorrow. I do hope that responsibility to protect, international justice and sanctions against dictators will have a follow up if necessary, I do hope that all the dictators will listen to what is happening even in the usually prudent Security Council."

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