NAIROBI, Kenya – The list of countries where Moammar Gadhafi might spend a comfortable life in exile is a lot shorter today than it would have been in years past because of global monetary sanctions and a possible trial at the International Criminal Court.
Uganda’s deposed dictator, Idi Amin, found refuge first in Libya and eventually in Saudi Arabia in 1980, living in his own villa with female companionship, food and drink.
That kind of good life may not be likely for Gadhafi.
In a twist of fate, Uganda said Wednesday it would accept Libya’s leader, the first country to publicly volunteer to give him a home.
Of course, Gadhafi may never leave Libya unless overbearing military power forces him to, though world leaders are hoping the strongman will go, and there are indications that his aides are seeking an exit for a man who has held power for more than 40 years.
The Ugandan president’s spokesman justified the offer of refuge, saying that Ugandans were given asylum in neighboring countries during the rule of Amin, who killed tens of thousands of his countrymen in the ‘70s.
“So we have soft spots for asylum seekers. Gadhafi would be allowed to live here if he chooses to do so,” spokesman Tamale Mirundi told The Associated Press.
Other countries on a list of potential landing points are the African nations of Chad, Mali, Niger, Eritrea and Sudan, although the first three are members of the ICC and would, in theory, be obliged to arrest Gadhafi if he is charged.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has a long friendship with Gadhafi and has called for mediation in the conflict, said Wednesday that he has spoken with Gadhafi recently and that the Libyan leader has no plans to seek refuge in another country.
“He has said on different occasions that he isn’t going to leave Libya,” Chavez said at a news conference in Uruguay, where he was asked whether Venezuela would welcome Gadhafi as an exile. “I think Gadhafi is doing what he has to do, no? Resisting against an imperial attack.”
Besides Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua have been openly supportive of Gadhafi, said Mark Palmer, a former U.S. ambassador and an expert on dictators. Because the Libyan leader has a large ego, he is more likely to accept going to one of those countries than a smaller African nation like Eritrea.
Saudi Arabia is an outside possibility, as is Belarus, which is led by Europe’s last dictator and was accused of sending weapons to Gadhafi until an international arms embargo kicked in.
Some experts cast doubt on whether Gadhafi would ever leave Libya.
“I don’t think Gadhafi’s going to go anywhere,” said Adam Habib, a political scientist at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. “I think he’s happy to die there.”
Italy has been pushing for the African Union to come up with a possible place for exile, but Brahan Khellaf – the special assistant to AU commissioner for peace and security Ramtane Lamamra – said Wednesday that the topic of Gadhafi’s exile has not been discussed “at all.”
Palmer, like many analysts, said he doesn’t believe Gadhafi will leave Libya voluntarily and instead must face heavy military pressure and be given a guarantee he won’t end up before the International Criminal Court, which opened in 2002.
“He obviously believes he is Libya, and his family is deeply entrenched in the power structure and the wealth of the country. So I’m sure his family is also saying ‘Don’t go, don’t go,'” said Palmer, the author of “Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025.”
Palmer said that while Gadhafi “richly deserves” to face the ICC, an international guarantee that he won’t face the court is a small price to pay to let Libya proceed in peace.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, insisted there was no dispute between those nations that hoped Gadhafi would quickly flee into exile and those which have demanded he stand trial. He said Britain believed Gadhafi could face a reckoning for his actions, even if he finds a haven outside Libya.
“I don’t actually think that precludes anyone being held accountable by the International Criminal Court,” Field told reporters Wednesday.
If Gadhafi is granted exile, he might choose a country that does not recognize the court, which is investigating him for possible crimes against humanity committed in the early days of his crackdown on anti-government rebels. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is expected to decide by May whether to indict Gadhafi and other senior members of his regime.
Because the U.N. Security Council ordered the ICC’s investigation into Libya, any U.N. member state would be obliged to execute an arrest warrant. However, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir also has been indicted, for crimes including genocide in Darfur, following a Security Council-mandated probe and has traveled to friendly nations several times without arrest.
Gadhafi may also want to take into account the case of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who went into voluntary exile in Nigeria after being indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003. Taylor was arrested in 2006 while trying to cross from Nigeria to Cameroon shortly after Nigeria agreed, under international pressure, that he should stand trial.
The Sierra Leone court’s then-prosecutor, Desmond De Silva, said Taylor’s arrest sent a “clear message that no matter how rich, powerful or feared people may be, the law is above them.”