A few months ago, amidst rampant rumours that Muammar Gaddafi was seeking asylum in Burkina Faso, I expressed my frustration at what I thought was groundless and largely unfounded speculation:
“If Gaddafi does, in fact, seek asylum he will surely be very careful which country he chooses for his refuge. Yet few analysts seem to know the slightest about Burkina Faso. Indeed, there has been zero concrete evidence that the pro-Gaddafi convoys are, in fact, heading to Burkina Faso. Most media reports suggest this could be the case because the capital of Niger is close to the border with Burkina Faso and because Burkina Faso had offered Gaddafi asylum.
Burkina Faso now denies that it had offered Gaddafi asylum and it’s interesting to look at media reports to the contrary which never quote any officials from the country.”
Alison Cole at the Open Society came to a similar conclusion. In his typically astute and thoughtful fashion, John Birchall commented on the fact that the offer of asylum could not actually be traced:
I find it interesting to trace the origins of the widely reported “offer of asylum” from Burkina. It seems all based on the Reuters interview with the FM. Its not clear that he even used the word “exile”, which sems based on this quote:
“In the name of peace, I think we will take, with our partners in the international community, whatever steps are necessary,” Bassolet said, without giving any other details.
And exile went to asylum as fast as you can drive across the deserts of Niger.”
This week, it became even more evident that Burkina Faso never actually offered Gaddafi asylum. The President, Blaise Compaore, was remarkably unequivocal about his country’s support for the ICC’s role in Africa:
“It is our duty to sensitise Africans… We must continue to convince them that such a court is essential…Many African countries believe that the ICC was a tool from the Western world against African countries. There’s a perception to be changed.”
At a seminar on international justice and in the presence of ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Compaore was even more fervent in addressing Burkina Faso’s position on the ICC and refuting rumours of an offer of exile to Gaddafi:
“No, we did not offer asylum to Gaddafi. And if he had asked for asylum in Burkina Faso, we would have proceeded exactly as the president indicated, knowing that we are a member of the ICC and that we have recognized the national transition council at that time.”
“We are part of the ICC with all resulting obligations. If a perpetrator of crimes is indicted as part of ICC, we can’t protect this person. We fully obey to the obligations derived from our membership of the ICC.”
President Compaore’s comments are all the more stunning in light of the apparently ambivalent and cynical perspective toward the ICC of a number of African states.
Of course, it could be that Compaore was only making such declarations and denials because the possibility of providing exile to Gaddafi died along with the brutal colonel. But again, there is zero evidence that Compaore or anyone in his government made the offer of asylum in the first place.
This story is symptomatic of the amount of misinformation and, indeed, dis-information, that has characterized the intervention in Libya. Confusion often reigned. Remember: the “capture” of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, ending up with him freely parading through the streets of Tripoli; the existence or non-existence of Gaddafi’s daughter – thought to have been killed during 1980s US bombings of Tripoli; the offers and non-offers of exile from Burkina Faso, Uganda and others; the apparently urgent desire for Saif al-Islam to escape Libya and be transferred to The Hague to be treated for life-threatening wounds.
On numerous levels, Libya has taught us a lot about the murky and often confused nature of humanitarian intervention. One enduring lesson, surely, will be that it is wiser, if not safer, to believe it only when you see it.
Many thanks to Wasil Ali for bringing President Campoare’s commentary to my attention.