World on a Page: Justice in Brazil... and Tripoli?

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi celebrates at a public appearance in Tripoli in 2011. Dario Lopez-Mills / AFP-Getty Images-pool

Trial and Error

Libya and the International Criminal Court are locked in an acrid tug of war over the right to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the late Muammar, for crimes against humanity. The Libyans, not surprisingly, would like to try him in Tripoli, the venue of his worst excesses, and their insistence on a right to prosecute him on Libyan soil has frequently verged on the emotional. But the international tribunal, based in that most unemotional of places, The Hague, takes the view that any proceeding against Saif in his homeland would be fueled by a craving for revenge, not justice. They are also squeamish about the prospect of a death sentence. “Although the Libyan government has danced around the issue, let’s be very clear: if convicted Mr. Gaddafi will be hanged,” warned Saif’s court-appointed lawyer. Possession is, of course, nine-tenths of the law, and Libya has Saif under lock and key, having bought him from nearby Mauritania (to which he’d fled after the fall of the ancien régime) for a hefty sum, believed to be $200 million. Besides, Libya hasn’t signed the treaty that set up the international court, which means that any ceding of the right to try Saif would have to be voluntary. This column’s prediction: Saif’s not going anywhere. There’s nothing quite as raw as the sense of sovereignty in a newly liberated land.

Phrase of the Week

A leading candidate for this week’s award for linguistic felicity was the Swedish Nobel Committee, which lauded literature laureate Mo Yan for his “hallucinatory realism.” But first prize has to go to Gwede Mantashe, secretary-general of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress. In a lecture in Johannesburg, titled “Unity in Diversity: What Does It Mean to the ANC?” Mantashe lamented the fact that South Africa (as he saw it) was “an Irish coffee society”—in which “there is a concentration of black at the bottom and, in all respects, the white cream on top, with a sprinkling of chocolate.” Unlike Irish coffee, however, Mantashe declared this state of affairs to be unpalatable.

Order and Progress

Asked why landlocked Bolivia has a navy, Andean gentlemen retort, “Why not? Brazil has a justice system.” This staple of South American humor is now in need of revision. Flabbergasting the cynics (who comprise, in this matter, the entire population of Brazil), the country’s Supreme Court has condemned the upper echelon of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration on charges ranging from corruption to money laundering. Among the mucky muckety-mucks was Lula’s former chief of staff, José Dirceu, whom the high court found guilty of orchestrating a massive payola scheme to buy votes in Congress during Lula’s first term. Sentences will come at the end of the trial, which is expected to wrap up in the next few weeks. But the verdicts are being hailed already as a Brazilian landmark on a par with a national victory in a soccer World Cup.

Darth Vadra

The son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, the most powerful woman in India, is under a searing national microscope after anti-corruption campaigners revealed the mind-boggling extent to which he has been enriched by sweetheart deals with the country’s largest real-estate company. Robert Vadra, who is married to Sonia’s daughter, Priyanka—the granddaughter of Indira Gandhi—amassed $37 million as a result of preferential deals with DLF, the company in question. “And not much of it,” observed Firstpost, an Indian publication, “can be attributed to Vadra’s business acumen.”

world-NB30-eu-nobel Prize image: a peaceful Europe. Angelos Tzortzinis / The New York Times-Redux

Peace Out

The Norwegian Nobel Committee may have been entirely serious in its award of this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union, but the British media treated the event as a particularly ripe joke. “Could have been even sillier,” tweeted Benedict Brogan, an editor at London’s Daily Telegraph. “They could have awarded EU the Nobel for economics.” “Taking the peace?” asked Mehdi Hassan, piquant political director of The Huffington Post U.K. And this column’s favorite, from Tim Marshall of Sky News: “EU wins Nobel Peace Prize. I wanted to interview EU about it—but didn’t know which number to call.”

With Luke Darby and Jane Teeling