Two of Gaddafi's sons are among 38 former regime figures charged with a litany of crimes related to 2011 uprising.
Al Jazeera Last updated: 13 Apr 2014 13:09
Libyan state TV aired controversial footage of Saadi Gaddafi asking the country for forgiveness [Reuters]
|Tripoli, Libya - The trial for which Libyans have waited three years opens in Tripoli on Monday, when two of Muammar Gaddafi's sons and three dozen former officials go to court over a litany of alleged war crimes committed during the 2011 uprising that toppled the former Libyan president.|
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, his younger brother, Saadi, and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi are among key figures of the former regime facing charges ranging from murder to plundering state coffers. Also among the 38 defendants are former Prime Ministers al-Baghdadi al-Mahmudi and Bouzid Dorda.
For prosecutors, it is a chance to finally call to account key members of the Gaddafi regime for alleged crimes committed during the uprising and the decades of dictatorship that preceded it.
Security is expected to be tight at Tripoli's Hadba prison, which has been turned into a fortress protected by barbed wire, armoured cars and machine-gun nests. Prosecutors say more than 200 witnesses have been interviewed and more than 40,000 pages of evidence assembled, along with video and audio evidence that allegedly shows the defendants giving instructions to security units to open fire on protesters.
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For many Libyans, the Gaddafi brothers and Senussi symbolise the different faces of the former regime.
Arrested in November 2011, Saif, 41, has been detained by militia leaders in the mountain town of Zintan, about 150km southwest of the capital. The militia persistently refused to hand him over to the central authorities, so he is expected to participate in the trial via video link.
Saif was considered the man most likely to replace his father, who was captured and killed at the end of the 2011 uprising during fighting in his hometown of Sirte. Saif earned a playboy reputation abroad, throwing lavish parties and being entertained by the British royal family at Buckingham Palace. He was controversially awarded a doctorate by the London School of Economics, after the charity he controlled gave the school a £1.5m ($2.5m) grant. Saif was captured by Zintan militias as he fled though the southern desert in November 2011, missing two fingers, allegedly the result of wounds from a NATO air strike.
Senussi, meanwhile, was viewed as Gaddafi's chief enforcer, running his intelligence network for several decades. He has already been convicted in absentia by a Paris court for the bombing of a French airliner that crashed in Niger in 1989.
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The trial of the Gaddafi-era officials is already steeped in controversy. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has charged both Saif and Senussi with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but while judges have agreed Senussi can be tried in Tripoli, they have yet to consent to the same for Saif. The ICC was mandated by the United Nations Security Council in 2011 to investigate war crimes in Libya, and it is unclear how judges may react if Saif's trial concludes without their agreement.
"He [Saif] has been held incommunicado [in] detention for almost two-and-a-half years," John Jones, Saif's ICC-appointed lawyer, told Al Jazeera from London. Jones will not be in court on Monday. "His trial will take place by video link from Zintan, which is a fundamental violation of the right to a fair trial."
In February, Human Rights Watch accused Libya of failing to provide proper legal representation for the accused, but Libyan officials say all suspects will have access to lawyers. Last month, however, Libyan state television aired a contentious jailhouse video in which Saadi, apparently without a lawyer present, confessed to his role in "destabilising" the country and asked for forgiveness.
Libyan officials maintain due process will be observed, with prosecution spokesperson Seddick al-Sour vowing to conduct a fair and open trial. Government spokesperson Ahmed Lamin promised the same, telling a press conference last week: "I can assure you that the trial will be according to the correct legal procedures."
Still, there are fears over how ongoing violence in Libya could impact the trial, with frequent anti-government protests fuelled by a lack of prosperity in the oil-rich country. Four international airlines have suspended Tripoli-bound flights indefinitely after rockets hit the runway last month. Despite the deteriorating security situation, many residents will be closely following the trial.
"This trial should have happened quicker but we're pleased it's happening [now]. These guys need to be judged for the things they did," Tripoli student Hassan Morajea told Al Jazeera. "A lot of negative things are happening in Libya right now, but having this trial is a good development for the country."
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Libya looks to past for new constitution
The security situation in Libya remains chaotic - not ideal conditions to draw up a new constitution. But a 63-year-old constitution, framed under the old monarchy, could help the federalists.
Libya currently lacks a lot of things that make up a functioning state - stability, security, an effective government, a head of state and a constitution. This last issue, at least, could be resolved soon. The newly-elected constitutional council is set to begin its work on Monday (14.04.2014) and it is supposed to deliver a draft for a new basic order for the country within 60 days. But the talks are unlikely to be without conflict because several interest groups are making demands and various militias are keen on maintaining their own power and influence.
The council itself has not had an auspicious start either. The Libyans have twice been forced to elect its 60 members. But following threats from individual militias and several bombings, many polling stations remained shut. On top of that, some ethnic minorities - notably Berbers, Tuaregs and Tubus - called for a boycott because they felt their two seats each did not adequately represent them. Only 14 percent of those eligible voted.
But it wasn't only the low turnout that raised doubts about whether the constitutional assembly reflected the interests of everyone in the country. Each of Libya's three historical regions - Tripolitania in the West, Cyrenaica in the East, and Fezzan in the South - was granted 20 seats on the council. But many more people live in Tripolitania than in the other two regions put together, which means that certain votes have more value, explains Libya expert Wolfgang Pusztai. At the same time, almost all of the country's oil wealth is in Cyrenaica, where federalists are insisting on their autonomy. All of these factors will have an effect on the council's work, predicts Pusztai, who worked as Austrian defense attaché in Tripoli from 2007 to 2012.
Gadhafi sons on trial
At least the council no longer has to take into account the interests of the cliques that dominated the reign of Moammar Gadhafi. Monday also sees the beginning of the trial of Gadhafi's sons, Saif al-Islam and Saadi, and other leading representatives of the regime that was toppled in 2011. They are accused, among other things, of murder, kidnapping, and embezzlement.
In the coming weeks, the framers of the constitution will first have to decide what kind of state Libya is to become. "Should it be a republic, and if so, what kind?" Pusztai wonders. "An Islamic republic? A federal republic?" Another major question is what influence Sharia law is to have on the legal system.
If, at some point, there is to be a draft constitution at all, it will also have to find the necessary majorities in the transitional parliament and in a referendum. But at the moment in Libya, militias wield more power than political or ethnic majorities. Armed groups wanting to prevent a law being enacted have already brought heavy weapons to bear several times. This is one of the biggest problems the country faces, according to Mohammad Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou of the Geneva Center for Security Policy, because state structures have been largely dismantled.
"What we have instead is a 'militia-fication' of politics," Mohamedou told DW. The planned constitution must stand against this as one element in the reconstruction of the state. "A constitution is not just a text," he said - it is a guarantee that there will be a certain way that politics will be carried out. "It is a living document," concluded Mohamedou.
Reintroducing the monarchy?
But what could such a document look like if it is to represent the interests of as many Libyans as possible? There have been several calls for a return to large parts of the political system of the Libyan monarchy in the 50s and 60s. Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdelasis has even proposed re-establishing the monarchy itself. Most people do not want to go that far, but at the moment the old kingdom looks a lot more attractive that the Gadhafi era or the current state of near-anarchy.
"There is a nostalgia," says Mohamedou, describing the mood in Libya, something well-illustrated by the return to the old monarchy flag. Moreover, references to the old Libyan nation, when federalism was deeply rooted, are now commonplace.
Then again, the monarchy did have two different constitutions. The one from 1951 was very federalist, explains Pusztai, and it gave the three regions major powers: "Even the capital was rotated between Tripoli and Bengazi."
But the major oil companies did not want to have to negotiate with myriad local representatives as well as the central government, which led to the pressure to establish the new constitution in 1963. But today's federalists, who occupied important oil loading terminals in the past few months, have no interest in negotiating on the basis of this - they much prefer the 1951 model.
By meeting in Al-Beidha, Pusztai said, the constitutional council has chosen a highly symbolic location: This was the first town to be liberated from Gadhafi's power in 2011. And, Pusztai recalls, "it was where the first, and for the time, very modern, constitution was written in 1951."