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Can the ICC successfully try Qaddafi?

It remains to be seen whether Muammar Qaddafi will be extradited to the International Criminal Court and whether the court has learned from past mistakes.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / August 24, 2011

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With Libyan rebels seemingly on the verge of victory, there are growing calls from international justice advocates for Muammar Qaddafi to be turned over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of human rights abuses.

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But with seven major cases ongoing, and a major one against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga about to conclude this week, the main question for the ICC is whether it has learned from past mistakes, and whether its flamboyant and controversial prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, can successfully prosecute a high-profile case against Mr. Qaddafi.

Certainly, Mr. Ocampo's public announcement this week that Libyan rebels had captured Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi (disproved within hours as Saif Qaddafi gave a televised interview in Tripoli), was a reminder that Ocampo’s penchant for overstatement remains a problem.

The misstep may seem like a petty matter, something to be blamed on the fog of war, but critics see it as emblematic of a more fundamental problem for the Argentine prosecutor Ocampo, a persistent inattention to detail seen in previous ICC judicial decisions that forced Ocampo to withdraw charges of genocide against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and war crimes charges against Mr. Lubanga until his office had done a better job of proving its case.

But human rights experts say that the ICC, as an institution, is certainly beginning to show signs of improvement.

“I think that yes, there have been missteps, and these missteps have hurt the court,” says Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program of Human Rights Watch in New York. “At the same time, there is a learning curve, and even with ongoing problems and missteps on a difficult landscape, the expectations and the demand for justice through the International Criminal Court has increased qualitatively.”

Justice in Libya or in the ICC?

What's more, a new Libyan government made up of leaders of the rebellion could move to bring Qaddafi to justice inside Libya.

At a June 29 meeting between Libyan officials and Ocampo’s office, Mahmoud Jibril, head of the Executive Council of the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Libya, said, “Libya should take the lead in anything related to Libya and on Libyan soil.”

Yet in a political environment such as Libya’s, where the interim government may have loose control over its soldiers at best, it still remains to be seen if Qaddafi would in fact be handed over, even if he is apprehended.

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