Qaddafi trial offers Libya a chance to heal

The trial of Saif Al Islam Qaddafi and other leaders from the overthrown regime will be a test of Libya's trajectory

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When Saif Al Islam Qaddafi stands in the dock of a Libyan courtroom today, it will mark a threshold of sorts for a nation that has been vacillating between a descent into outright anarchy and a gradual progression to a civil norm that befits Libya's rich history.

His appearance in court, with Qaddafi-era secret police chief Abdullah Al Senussi, premier Al Baghdadi Al Mahmoudi and others, does not necessarily indicate an entrenchment of the rule of law. But it is an essential step – a cathartic process – to ensure that justice has been served in Libya after tens of thousands died in the 2011 conflict.

Their trial for crimes against humanity committed during the 42-year rule of Muammar Qaddafi, is being held in Tripoli in defiance of an order by the International Criminal Court for them to be tried in the Hague on the grounds that they’re unlikely to receive a fair trial in Libya.

It is of little surprise that Libya has struggled to return to stability after the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime. Muammar Qaddafi's cult of personality left the country without any kind of functioning civil society to provide the basic services any citizen seeks from their government, such as security and the supply of municipal services like power and water.

Inevitably, this power vacuum has been filled in part by warlords and militias, despite the efforts to empower a democratic central government.

The bombing of the Libyan foreign ministry building in Benghazi on the anniversary of the death of US ambassador Christopher Stevens in the city, is symptomatic of the unrest that has seen the country’s oil and gas production fall to one-tenth of its previous level. This is below the rate needed to generate enough revenue to pay the salaries of civil servants and thus exacerbating the stuttering delivery of essential services.

In the midst of this, the trial of the Qaddafi-era leaders offers an indication of where the nation is heading.

There is a cogent argument for justice against dictators to be imposed by the people who were subjugated – but only if the legal process involved is both transparent and fair.

If this trial achieves that, it will show Libya is on the path to recovery. Catharsis can only come with transparency of full due process. It is that important.