Britain put pressure on an international court not to indict Colonel Gaddafi for war crimes despite evidence that implicated him in the maiming of more than one million people in Sierra Leone, the Chief Prosecutor on the case has claimed.
The United Nations Security Council, which counts Britain among its permanent members, had evidence linking Colonel Gaddafi to war crimes in Sierra Leone as early as 2003.
Prosecutors named Colonel Gaddafi in the indictment of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia who is currently on trial for alleged war crimes. However, due to resistance from UN member states, including Britain, the decision was made not to indict the Libyan leader.
Professor David Crane, of Syracuse University, who was the Chief Prosecutor at the Special Court of Sierra Leone between 2002-05, said: “It was my political sense, dealing with senior leadership in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, United Nations, and the Netherlands, that this would not be welcome,” he said. “This [Colonel Gaddafi’s involvement] is not speculation on my part. We named and shamed him in the actual indictment.”
Indicting Gaddafi would have been the “death knell” for the courts as the countries objecting would have pulled funding, Professor Crane added. Asked why he believed there was opposition from the international community to act on the evidence he had uncovered, he said: “Welcome to the world of oil.”
Professor Crane said Colonel Gaddafi was instrumental in planning the conflict in Sierra Leone, which went on for ten years from 1991 and resulted in the deaths of 50,000 civilians and left hundreds of thousands displaced.
His view is corroborated by his colleague at the time. Sir Desmond de Silva, QC, one of Britain’s leading barristers and an authority on human rights, confirmed that Colonel Gaddafi’s primary role in the war had been that of trainer and financier.
Kofi Annan, the then Security-General of the UN, issued a mandate instructing the prosecutors to limit the scope of their investigation to 1996-2001. Sir Desmond believes this was the reason that led to the decision not to indict the man Ronald Reagan once dubbed “the mad dog of the Middle East”.
“I think the main reason why we didn’t prosecute him although he [Colonel Gaddafi] was not to know that was that we felt that his involvement in the horrors of Sierra Leone was prior to 1996 or that was what the evidence seemed to suggest,” he said.
Professor Crane said the full extent of Colonel Gaddafi’s role in the carnage at Sierra Leone had gone unreported for too long. “Gaddafi was ultimately responsible for the mutilation, maiming and/or murder of 1.2 million people. This is an important story and one that must be told,” he said.
Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary between 2001 and 2006, expressed surprise at the suggestion that the British Government had sought to influence the investigations. He said he had “absolutely no recollection of knowing any involvement by the UK in putting pressure of any kind on anyone”. He added: “And given our approach to international tribunals I would be very surprised if it turned out that anyone acting on behalf of the UK did so.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Foreign Secretary under John Major, was also surprised. “If this is true than I am appalled because, first of all, it’s been kept pretty secret until now.” He was doubtful, however, that oil was behind any decision-making process.
In a statement, the Foreign Office said: “The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone after 1996. As an independent judicial body, the issue of indictments is a matter for the Prosecutor.
“The UK is committed to ensuring there is no impunity for those alleged to have committed the most serious crimes of international concern.”
By Soraya Kishtwari