The international community is giving out dangerously mixed signals on Libya. On the one hand the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is investigating accusations that Muammar Gaddafi has ordered the rape of hundreds of women in rebel areas. There are even shocking claims that he ordered container-loads of Viagra to assist his troops in making rape a weapon of war. On the other hand there is talk from senior officials of a "political process" to end the conflict which would mean not just a ceasefire but some kind of deal for Gaddafi and his family. There has even been speculation about where he should go.
A negotiated deal must be the inevitable outcome. But it should be with those in the Libyan leader's inner circle who have not been implicated in such crimes against humanity. There should be no question of not pursuing the indictment of Gaddafi, his son Saif, and his brother-in-law and intelligence chief, Abdullah Sanussi, on these grave charges and others which include murder, torture, and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
Not to do so would seriously undermine the ICC whose purpose is to pursue wrong-doing at the highest level in order to create a disincentive to other ruthless leaders who feel that power equals immunity. That is, of course, only one part of the complex international dispensation which must be put in place as part of the end game in Libya. Important steps toward that are being taken by the Contact Group – which includes Britain, France and the US, as well as Arab nations – which is now meeting in Abu Dhabi. It has set up a helpful new mechanism for channelling funds to the rebels.
Yet none of this should distract from the proper pursuit of Gaddafi through the international court. The prospect of his arrest may well further isolate the Libyan leader and persuade more of his supporters to defect before they too end up on an ICC charge-sheet. But it is also an area in which the international community must be seen to uphold an important principle and make it clear to others of Gaddafi's ilk what they can expect.