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Gaddafi's freedom for a people's future?

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Daan Weggemans
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Today the tense situation in the Middle East and its call for more freedom and democratization dominate our thoughts and conversations. Especially since Gaddafi's brutal attacks on rebellion towns and the UN decision for a no fly zone above Libya. All these events raise several questions. Among them there is one that seems very important for Libya's future, namely: how can the number of casualties be minimized and future stability and democratization be achieved? A constructive approach. However, the controversy often lies in the answer.

To unveil this controversy we need to focus on the domain of transitional justice. Transitional justice connects the present with the past and the past with the future. In other words: It concentrates on the procedures, mechanisms and principles that should be applied in the case of gross violations of human rights with the aim of becoming a durable, stable democracy. Answers to questions of which approach is the most suitable given a certain situation are never unambiguous. Both in theory and practice considerations should be made between the right of the individual victim and the general interest of society. The research of all the available options given a certain transitional event has increased significantly over last decades.

One of the most controversial themes of discussion is the conversion of the rights of the individual for the benefit of society as a whole. In this case it can be stated that if Gaddafi stays in power future casualties and violation of rights can't be ruled out. On the contrary. A civil war between Gaddafi's army and the Libyan people will probably lead to thousands of deaths and other crimes against humanity. An approach in which Gaddafi is offered a free retreat if he resigns could prevent further escalation of the conflict. A solution of great injustice for those who already became victims of his brutal acts.

The dilemma which we are faced here with is one between the right to protection from violation of human rights, including the right to life, on the one hand and the moral principles of revenge and individual justice on the other hand. Individuals who have become victim of someone's actions probably want some kind of satisfaction in the form of punishment for what they have undergone. They will call upon the principles of justice where someone should be hold accountable for his actions and be brought to trial. Others that concentrate less on the individual suffering will refer to the possible future consequences. This Machiavellian approach -- "ends justify means' -- will subordinate these individual rights to the general interest of society and state that it is in the people's interest that peace will be established as soon as possible thus minimizing the potential amount of victims.

This dilemma is cruel. The load of comparing thousands of possible future victims with individual suffering can't be underestimated. Despite this fact we should take into account that the moral right to life is one of the highest priority. No right, not even the right for justice can outweigh it.

In the Gaddafi case our gut feeling screams for justice, an international persecution for a war criminal or an intervention under UN or NATO mandate. But unfortunately justice is not the only thing that should be taken into the equation that leads to peace and put an end to people suffering from violence and oppression.

And in fact this is what has happened in the recent past in a number of cases. Leaders of criminal regimes from all over the world were offered mild punishments for their brutal acts in exchange for their resignation. The Cambodian dictator Pol Pot -- responsible for the death of 25 percent of the population, about 2 million people - was sentenced lifelong house arrest and Nigeria offered dictator Charles Taylor (Liberia) a safe exile on the condition that Taylor stayed out of Liberian politics.

Numerous of other examples are known where the ending of a regime was given priority over the rights of the individual. In the case of Libya international policymakers are undoubtedly considering this option as well. Meanwhile it has been confirmed that the Libyan opposition has actually offered Gaddafi a free retreat. An absolute horror in the eyes of defenders of international human rights.

These considerations confront our feelings of justice with what should be done with the actual Libyan reality of today and what the best option in the interest of the Libyan people would be. Everybody agrees that the situation in Libya as it is now should come to an end and that Gaddafi should be persecuted.

Unfortunately, as we have seen during the last couple of weeks it looks Gaddaffi would rather slaughter masses of the population of his country than resign and run the risk of being sentenced for the violation of human rights.
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Political Scientist and Sociologist. Studied political philosophy in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, at the Radboud University.
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