Nations _ and families _ look to U.N. court for Lockerbie answers
WILLIAM J. KOLE
Oct. 12, 1997
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ In tribute to the daughter he lost when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, Jim Swire planted trees outside his home in central England.
But when the country doctor gazes at the grove, he is reminded more of the justice that still eludes Flora Swire and the 269 others who perished when a terrorist bomb shredded the New York-bound jumbo jet on Dec. 21, 1988.
On Monday, as the World Court wades into the legal aftermath _ a bitter dispute pitting Libya against the United States and Britain _ Swire will be among those watching from the gallery of the U.N. court's ornate Peace Palace.
``She was murdered. I want to know who killed her and I want them punished,'' said Swire, who leads UK Families-Flight 103, a group intent on making sure those responsible for the bombing are prosecuted.
Nine years later _ to Swire, ``nine years too many'' _ the two Libyan suspects indicted by Washington and London on suspicion of placing the bomb on the plane are not even close to standing trial.
The legal mess before the World Court, known formally as the International Court of Justice, threatens to only further frustrate the families.
In eight days of hearings opening Monday before the United Nations' highest judicial body, the United States and Britain will try to get the case thrown out, arguing that the court has no jurisdiction.
Lawyers for the two countries and Libya, which first brought the dispute to The Hague in 1992, also will argue about where a trial _ if there ever is one _ should be held.
Britain and the United States say the case should be tried in their countries, perhaps in Scotland, where the wreckage and bodies rained down. Libya counters that the two men could never get a fair trial that way and wants it in Libya, in the Netherlands or in another country, preferably an Arab one.
But the dispute goes far deeper than a venue. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, defying a U.N. Security Council demand, refuses to surrender the suspects and insists that London and Washington have no right to demand their extradition.
Libya denies U.S. and British claims that the two men, Abdel Basset Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, were intelligence agents and says they had no role in the bombing.
The North African nation says it has investigated the case and fulfilled its obligations under the 1971 Montreal Convention on unlawful acts against aircraft. The United States and Britain, it contends, violated the same treaty by refusing to cooperate with Libyan authorities.
To top it all off, the World Court has no enforcement powers and relies on voluntary compliance with its rulings.
Caught in the middle are the loved ones the victims left behind.
``The families' position is very straightforward: They want a trial, for heaven's sake. They want an end to this,'' said Sir Cyril Townsend of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, which is trying to settle the diplomatic impasse.
By resolving the standoff, Libyans could expect the easing of U.N. economic sanctions that have pummeled their country since 1992.
But last week, Gadhafi reiterated his harsh conditions: a straight swap of the bombing suspects for the U.S. pilots who carried out a 1986 air raid that Libya says killed 37 people, including adopted daughter.
``If they hand over to us those who unjustly killed our children for trial in Libyan courts, then we will hand over to them those they want for trial in British or American courts,'' he said in a televised speech.
``This is the policy of reciprocity,'' Gadhafi said. ``Otherwise, to hell with them.''
Swire, whose daughter died at 31,000 feet the day before her 24th birthday, winces at such words.
``I've had enough of the politicians and their arrogant intransigence,'' he said. ``Lockerbie is a tragedy, not a political contest, and we haven't seen justice.''