The brutality of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s repression of the liberation movement in Libya is clear. He and his cohorts are using machine guns and planes to kill their own people. We saw similar brutality in the early 1970s when serving in the U.S. ambassador’s post in Uganda. While all the evidence was present about the serious violations by Idi Amin, there was never a formal indictment of him by any legal jurisdiction. Amin, after an eight-year reign of terror, lived a comfortable exile in Saudi Arabia, where he died having escaped the criminal trial that he so deserved. The world should make sure that does not happen to Col. Gadhafi.
The Obama administration and European leaders are considering various options of geopolitical and military action to end the Gadhafi nightmare. These are all appropriate state actions, but they do not address the fact that another state leader may escape personal responsibility for his brutal atrocities.
The announcement by International Criminal Court prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo that the court will investigate the Libyan leader and his inner circle for possible crimes against humanity was welcome news for us. The U.S. and European governments should endorse this action publicly and take steps within their judicial systems to strengthen international efforts to ensure that he is indicted.
In the past decade, Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia was indicted for crimes against humanity during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The world was deprived of witnessing a verdict as he died during the judicial process at The Hague. While the court has focused on possible crimes committed during that conflict, other leaders with notorious reputations for cruelty and inhumane treatment have escaped similar indictment and punishment.
Our experience in Uganda is still etched in our memories. Within months of our arrival in August 1972, Amin announced that he was expelling all Asians. When we arrived, there were more than 45,000 people of Indian, Pakistani and Bengali origin living in the country. They were a visible minority, especially in the urban areas.
Amin announced that according to the dictates of a dream, all Asians who were not Ugandans would be required to leave Uganda within three months. This was a blatant racist act, for it discriminated against select foreigners by race. Furthermore, Asians who were citizens of Uganda were told that they were no longer considered Ugandans. Amin began the 90-day process of throwing out of the country most of the brown-skinned people of Uganda. Most were forced to leave their property and belongings behind.
This clear violation of human rights was followed by Amin’s public endorsement of Adolf Hitler’s killing of the Jews. The United States could not accept such gross violations of human rights and ended the U.S. diplomatic presence in Uganda.
What many did not realize at the time was that Amin had targeted many of his own people. He used his police force to arrest and put to death black Ugandans whom he suspected of opposing his rule. Many of these victims had participated in the previous government and had been active in political parties. One of our dearest friends, who had studied economics in the United States and had once headed the Ugandan central bank, was brutally tortured and killed. A Ugandan priest, active in ministering to young children, including our own two daughters, was found dead in his burned-out car. One morning, a Ugandan appeared at the door to our residence in his pajamas. He was shaking with fear as he told us how he fled from police as they raided his home. Thousands like him did not escape Amins cruel dictatorship.
When we returned to the United States, we tried to get the world community to pay attention to the evils of this brutal tyrant. We appealed to our government officials to begin the process of indicting him, but no judicial action was ever taken.
Three decades later, Col. Gadhafi is committing similarly brutal acts against his people. At least this time, a judicial procedure is being initiated. The world cannot allow brutal tyrants to escape judgment and justice.
The geopolitical and military actions against Col. Gadhafi and his cronies can and should continue, but the effort to place the finger on the leader for his brutal acts against humanity must be pursued.
By Thomas P. Melady, the last U.S. ambassador accredited to Idi Amin’s Uganda, in 1972-73. He and his wife, Margaret Melady, are co-authors of Idi Amin: Hitler in Africa.