Where Can Qaddafi Go If He Decides To Flee Libya?

July 5, 2011 1:45 a.m.

The proverbial noose seems to be tightening around the neck of Libyan despot Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Turkey is the latest nation to recognize Libya’s rebel movement as the country’s legitimate representatives. Since Turkey had at one point tried to set itself up as a potential honest broker between the two sides, this closes down yet another avenue for Qaddafi.The rebels went public Sunday with details of a pact they had offered Qaddafi around a month ago. Under this agreement, he would be allowed to remain in Libya in return for ceding power.

However, that offer was made before the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on Qaddafi and his son, Saif al-Islam.

That means if Qaddafi were to hand over the reigns now, yet remain in the country, then the country’s new leaders would be in violation of the ICC.

Qaddafi’s lawyers have argued that the country is not bound to honor the warrants, given that Libya is not a signed-up member of the court. The Sudanese said the same when their leader, Omar al-Bashir, was indicted by the court. Like the Sudanese, the Libyans are wrong. The court does have the authority to act in countries that are not members if the UN Security Council asks it to do so. The only times it has made this request to date have been in the cases of Sudan and Libya.

Given that the ICC warrants are legal, they certainly complicate Qaddafi’s choices should he decide to flee the country. Venezuela was originally touted as a possible refuge for him, including by Britain’s foreign minister, William Hague. However, given that Venezuela is a member of the court, Hugo Chavez would now find himself in breach of his obligations were he to offer Qaddafi a spot in the sun.

So what’s an ICC-indicted dictator to do in these troubled times? Here’s a look at his options were he to choose to run.

“The Troika”

One of the oft-observed hypocrisies surrounding the ICC is that the US, Russia and China – who all have permanent seats on the UN Security Council – do not belong to the court. However, they all voted in favor of the UN resolution that put Libya within the ICC’s jurisdiction, so it wouldn’t look too good for them not to hand him over. If Qaddafi had ever wanted to visit Disneyland, the Hermitage or the Great Wall of China then he’d better cross them off his bucket list now.

The Middle East And Wider Muslim World

Saudi Arabia is traditionally the destination of choice for deposed Muslim despots. Idi Amin lived out the end of his days in Jeddah, and Tunisia’s Ben Ali is there right now, dodging prosecution back home. The main complicating factor for Qaddafi is Saudi Arabia’s membership of the Arab League. That group voted to request a no-fly zone for Libya, which paved the way for NATO’s actions. Various members of the league have been backpedaling recently, but still, the stench of hypocrisy would be strong.

As can be inferred from the original Arab League vote, Qaddafi’s massacring of fellow Muslims hasn’t exactly won him a lot of fans around the region. Consequently Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq and so on – none of which are court members – are probably non-starters. Syria, of course, is having a few problems of its own.

Meanwhile, in the wider Muslim world, Indonesia might seem an appealing option, at least at first sight. After all, its people gave Suharto, their own toppled strongman, a fairly easy time after his resignation. However, Indonesia’s now doing well for itself, thank you very much. It’s a member of the G20 and is sometimes touted as the most successful of the Muslim democracies. That’s probably something its leaders would not want to jeopardize by inviting old Mad Dog into town.

The so-called ‘Stans are predominantly Muslim and mostly outside the court’s jurisdiction. But they’re probably unlikely options too. Kazakhstan has long been trying to shake off its Borat-heavy image and be taken seriously on the world stage. The others, dubious though they may be, are mostly trying to cozy up to the West either as energy providers or places of strategic influence.

Latin America
The fact that the option of crashing on Hugo Chavez’s spare couch has been withdrawn underlines just how dire things are for Qaddafi in this region. Practically all the Latin states are members of the court. The main hold-outs are Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. At least Qaddafi would be assured of good coffee.

Much of Africa is signed up to the court, though the African Union has had some grumbles with it over recent years. Indeed, it recently went so far as to call on its members to disregard Qaddafi’s ICC indictment.
Still, if they adhere to their obligations, then it severely limits Qaddafi’s freedom of movement.

Rwanda is not a member, but probably wouldn’t want to have someone accused of crimes against humanity on its turf for – well – obvious reasons. Eritrea might be worth a shot. Were he to elope to Sudan then he and that country’s president would have a lot to talk about. Ethiopia is a prominent non-signatory to the court, but – as with so many other cases here – would probably be unwilling to squander its relations with the West.

Zimbabwe might be able to tough it out; Robert Mugabe likes tweaking Western noses. As he watched the “Arab Spring” unfold Mugabe seems to have drawn many of the same conclusions as Qaddafi. However, whether the Libyan leader would like to hitch his star to an even more elderly strongman in an increasingly dysfunctional government is another matter.

None of Qaddafi’s remaining African options look especially enticing. There’s Somalia, if he fancies stepping into that Mad Max-style maelstrom. Mauritania – a country that still has problems with slavery – is another non-member of the court. The same is true of Swaziland. Qaddafi, used to his contingent of female bodyguards, may appreciate the King and his fourteen wives. However, he may not appreciate the fact that Swaziland has a forty percent AIDS-infection rate and seems to be on the verge of economic collapse.


A large swath of Asian countries are not members of the court. However, it’s hard to imagine any of them being especially keen to welcome Qaddafi, except perhaps Burma, or “Myanmar” as it calls itself these days. North Korea is another question mark, though the reclusive “hermit kingdom” may only have room for one eccentric tyrant.

Wild Cards
Belarus – often cited as Europe’s last dictatorship – is presumably a possibility. When a bombing recently rocked its capital, the UN Security Council took the unusual step of calling it an “apparent” terrorist act, suggesting they were not entirely sure the authorities weren’t responsible. The country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, was recently re-elected with 79.7 percent of the vote, so presumably he has a bit of political capital he could spend on offering Qaddafi a home. With the eyes of the world increasingly upon him, though, he probably won’t.

India is also a big skeptic of the court. However, it did join the Security Council consensus and send Libya to the ICC in the first place, so you’re unlikely to see Qaddafi chilling around Goa any time soon.

Another wild card is Papua New Guinea. It’s unlikely to make an offer because it’s so prominently in Australia’s sphere of influence. Even if it did reach out, perhaps the never-ending rumors about some of its tribes’ more unbelievable culinary habits might make Qaddafi think again.

Of course, the likeliest retirement home for Qaddafi is under the rubble of a “command and control building” that some NATO missile just so happens to hit while he’s inside. However, if reports are accurate that the rebels are planning a final push for Tripoli, then Qaddafi may have to make some very fast – and very tough – choices about his upcoming travels.

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