Monday, 27 October 2014

Nelson Mandela and the path towards Zeist

On this date in 1997, President Nelson Mandela, who was in Scotland for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh. His address on that occasion can be read here.  

At a press conference in Edinburgh, President Mandela took the opportunity to express some views on how the Lockerbie impasse between Libya and the United Kingdom might be resolved. He said amongst other things: “I have never thought in dealing with this question that it is correct for any particular country to be the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge at the same time.”

A relevant article in Wikipedia contains the following:

“Upon the indictment of the two Libyan suspects in November 1991, the Libyan government was called upon to extradite them for trial in either the United Kingdom or the United States. Since no bilateral extradition treaty was in force between any of the three countries, Libya refused to hand the men over but did offer to detain them for trial in Libya, as long as all the incriminating evidence was provided. The offer was unacceptable to the US and UK, and there was an impasse for the next three years.

“In November 1994, President Nelson Mandela offered South Africa as a neutral venue for the trial but this was rejected by the then British prime minister, John Major. A further three years elapsed until Mandela's offer was repeated to Major's successor, Tony Blair, when the president visited London in July 1997 and again at the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Edinburgh in October 1997. At the latter meeting, Mandela warned that "no one nation should be complainant, prosecutor and judge" in the Lockerbie case.

“The eventually agreed compromise solution of a trial in the Netherlands governed by Scots law was engineered by legal academic Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh University and, in accordance with the Labour government's promotion of an "ethical" foreign policy, was given political impetus by the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook. The Scottish Court in the Netherlands, a special High Court of Justiciary, was set up under Scots law in a disused United States Air Force base called Camp Zeist in Utrecht, in the Netherlands.”

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