The release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Megrahi to Libya has provoked varied responses. What is the human rights approach to this?
Geoffrey Robertson, author of Crimes Against Humanity and former President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, described Megrahi in The Guardian last week as an ‘unrepentant mass murder’ and condemned the release by Scottish authorities.
Another viewpoint comes from Sir Christopher Greenwood, who started a nine-year term as judge at the International Court of Justice in February of this year. I’ve been attending a conference at the National University of Mexico with Judge Greenwood. Yesterday, in response to a question, he pointed out that Scotland was only following its laws, which mandate release on compassionate grounds in a case such as that of Megrahi where the man is about to die of cancer. The Scottish authorities are not authorised by law to consider other factors, such as the gravity of the crime or the victims. Nor is the alleged innocence, or certainty of guilt, a factor in the determination of compassionate release. Judge Greenwood said it all made sense to him, and I agree.
Let me add that when they agreed to the trial of the two Lockerbie defendants, the Americans must have been aware of relevant Scottish law. What they seem to be asking for, in their complaints about the releases, is for Scottish authorities to violate their own laws.
Compassion is part of human rights. Someone who violates human rights does not forfeit their entitlement to our compassion. That’s why we campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, and the prohibition of torture, even for those who ‘deserve it’. Of course, it is too bad that the Libyan authorities tried to put their own spin on this, but their bad behaviour, which is no doubt very painful for the victims, is not a reason to deny Megrahi a touch of compassionate as he is about to die.