The Multilateralist

The Senussi sweepstakes: Who gets Libya’s former intelligence chief?

Libya’s former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, has finally been arrested. Apparently with the assistance of the French, authorities in Mauritania nabbed Senussi after his flight from Morocco landed today. Senussi was one of three senior Libyan officials (the others were Moammar Gaddafi himself and his son, Saif) indicted by the International Criminal Court. ICC officials ...

Libya’s former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, has finally been arrested. Apparently with the assistance of the French, authorities in Mauritania nabbed Senussi after his flight from Morocco landed today. Senussi was one of three senior Libyan officials (the others were Moammar Gaddafi himself and his son, Saif) indicted by the International Criminal Court. ICC officials reiterated today that the arrest warrant is valid and that the court would like to see it implemented.

For Mauritania, deciding how to dispose of Senussi will be complicated. The country is not an ICC member and so has no obligation under the Rome Statute to transfer him to the court. The Security Council resolution that referred the violence in Libya to the ICC did not create legal obligations for non-member states to cooperate with the court, although it "urge[d] all States and concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully with the Court and the Prosecutor."

With no path clearly dicated by international law, political considerations will likely loom large. It appears that Mauritiania will be juggling requests for Senussi from the ICC, from the Libyan authorities, and perhaps from France, which wants Senussi to answer for the 1989 bombing of a French passenger jet. The families of French victims will no doubt pressure the government to get hold of Senussi, and the embattled Nicolas Sarkozy will find organized domestic pressure tough to resist.

Absent significant pressure on Mauritania from other powerful states, it’s hard to imagine the ICC winning the Senussi sweepstakes. Libya is an important fellow north African state and France has huge interests and influence in the region. Handing Senussi over to either of them will yield Mauritania useful diplomatic brownie points. Packing their prize catch off to the Hague will earn the country a slap on the back from Human Rights Watch, but probably little else.

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