Letter: Libya, Lockerbie and the truth about the law

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The Independent Online
Sir: You are right to say that legal argument will not determine whether the Libyan suspects ever stand trial for the Lockerbie bombing (leading article, 14 October). However, you fail to do justice to the legal circumstances of the dispute.

The Lockerbie outrage is properly addressed by the 1971 Montreal Convention, which was enacted under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a specialised UN agency. The US and the UK were founder members of the Convention, and today they and Libya are signatories.

The relevance of the Convention (properly lodged with the UN under Article 102 of the Charter) is manifest in Article 1(1c): 'Any person commits an offence if he . . . places or causes to be placed on an aircraft . . . a device or substance which is likely to destroy the aircraft . . .' The Convention (Article 7) obliges Libya, 'if it does not extradite' the suspects, to prosecute them in Libya.

Libya has no extradition treaty with Britain or the United States. Article 8(2) of the Convention protects the right of Libya not to extradite the suspects. ('If a Contracting State . . . receives a request from another Contracting State with which it has no extradition treaty, it may at its option . . .') Article 11(1) obliges the Contracting States to 'afford one another the greatest measure of assistance in connection with criminal proceedings . . .'

Libya has fully complied with the demands of the Montreal Convention: it arrested the suspects, notified the accusing states, asked for evidence, began an inquiry and invited the West to send its own judges to observe. If the West had objections to the conduct of affairs, Article 14 of the Convention allows recourse to arbitration and the World Court. In their flagrant refusal to co-operate, as demanded by the Convention, the US and the UK are in direct violation of international law.

The two Libyan suspects were first targeted by the West in September 1991, six months before the Security Council passed the first resolution (731) on Libya. The first sanctions resolution (748) was passed on 31 March 1992, only after the US had told China that it would lose its 'favoured nation' trading status if it used its veto in the council. The West exploited the UN, in total absence of any submitted evidence, because it suspected that existing international law, the Montreal Convention, would not deliver the result it wanted.

Yours sincerely,


Stockport, Cheshire

The writer is author of 'Libya: the Struggle for Survival', Macmillan, 1993.