The interim Tunisian government recently extradited the former Libyan prime minister under Moammar Gadhafi, Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, to the current Libyan authorities. This happened in the early hours of Sunday, June 24, when the world was following the Egyptian elections.
Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s government ignored the positions of local and international human rights organizations, which have been opposed to handing Mahmoudi to Libya because the conditions for a fair trial are not present. There are no guarantees that he will not be physically mistreated and the death penalty is still in use.
No one can forget the horrible way that Gadhafi was treated by opposition fighters after his arrest. He was tortured and his dead body was put on display. No one can deny that the situation in Libya is still unstable and that there are continued acts of violence, murder and revenge in the absence of an elected authority that controls the entire country.
The government also ignored the position of temporary president Moncef Marzouki. Although he agreed to the idea of extradition, he did not agree on the timing, especially since the upcoming Libyan elections, which are expected to take place in a few days, will establish a legitimate government.
The interim government’s action caused a crisis between the presidency and the government, as the former deemed the Jebali government to have exceeded its authority at the expense of presidential powers. The extradition has also cause a crisis inside the ruling troika because the decision was taken without consulting all governmental forces. With the exception of the Democratic Bloc — represented by the president of the National Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who supported Ennahda’s position — all parties in the Constituent Assembly have agreed to censure the government. This in turn caused a crisis within the institution.
Also, a number of political parties and Tunisian human rights organizations denounced the extradition. Some said that the extradition was part of a secret deal between Ennahda and Libya’s current ruler, Mustafa Abdul Jalil.
After this embarrassment, the government sought to justify its actions with the following arguments:
1. The government dispatched a commission to Libya, which concluded that the Libyan justice system has been independent since the end of Gadhafi’s rule. It is therefore capable of conducting a fair trial.
This position was seen as an insult to the intelligence of the Tunisian public. The commission sent to Libya was primarily composed of government elements who supported extradition from the outset. Everybody knows that the justice system during Gadhafi’s era was not independent and that the situation in Libya today — with the bloody confrontations taking place between tribes and militias, along with gratuitous acts of revenge and retaliation — has prevented the rise of new institution that respects international standards.
2. Those who oppose Mahmoudi’s extradition are against holding him accountable for the crimes he committed against the Libyan people.
This is untrue. The government has shifted the debate to fool the public into believing that the dispute is between those who want to hold dictators and criminals accountable and those support them and do not. This is a fallacious argument because the dispute is not over the principle of extradition and accountability at all. It is rather over the conditions under which such an extradition should be carried out, so that the right to self-defense can be ensured.
3. If Mahmoudi is not extradited, it will be difficult for Tunisians to demand the extradition of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to Tunisia.
This argument is hollow. The demand to hand over Ben Ali does not justify violating Tunisia’s international obligations. Furthermore, contrary to the Jebali government’s claims, the government has not exerted any serious pressure on Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or other countries to hand over Ben Ali and his entourage, who committed transgressions against the Tunisian people. On the contrary, by visiting Saudi Arabia, the head of the government has demonstrated that “maintaining strategic relations” with that country is more important than extraditing Ben Ali.
4. The government tried to downplay the prime minister’s lack of consultation with the president on the extradition issue. It said that it was sufficient for the Troika government to agree on the extradition in principle.
That argument angered the president, who believes that the government overstepped its authority by not informing him. According to Marzouki, extradition falls within the domain of foreign policy, which is part of the president’s prerogatives. Moreover, according to the law, the president must approve the extradition. The government responded by saying that it had consulted the administrative court, which endorsed the government’s position. However, this consultation was not made public.
The government’s weak arguments have made the public suspect that a deal was struck between the Jebali government and the Libyan authorities. Earlier, news was leaked that meetings were held between Ennahda officials and the ruling Libyan officials, and that those meetings resulted in the extradition of Mahmoudi in exchange for nearly $200 million in financial support. Moreover, the speed by which Mahmoudi was extradited, which was only days before the Libyan elections, was a gift for Mustafa Abdul Jalil’s election campaign.
Mahmoudi’s extradition has become a central domestic issue, and has raised several questions. The first is a legal and constitutional question, which may have repercussions for the constitutional powers of all institutions. The second question is political in nature, and reveals Ennahda’s authoritarian tendencies — even within the governing coalition. Hamadi Jebali and his team have started taking unilateral decisions. This has raised fears that Ben Ali and his party’s tyranny will be replaced by that of Ghannouchi and Ennahda.
In all cases, the crisis is ongoing. It is unclear how Ennahda will fix is relations with its allies, the opposition and the Tunisian public.
Radhia Nasraoui is a Tunisian lawyer and human rights activist. She is the chairperson of the Association Against Torture in Tunisia.