February 25, 2010
It must be borne in mind that the dispute started when the Geneva police briefly detained a Libyan national, who happened to be Colonel Gaddafi’s son, for alleged assault and battery against two of his staff. In a civilised European country, no-one is above the law and no-one should be allowed to molest someone else unchallenged. Swiss police officials only did what was proper. In view, however, of the fact that Mr. Ghaddafi held a diplomatic passport, he was released and allowed to return to his country.
Since then, Libya has reacted with brash disregard for basic legal and diplomatic propriety. Trade with Switzerland was stopped, and two Swiss citizens, totally unconnected with the Geneva incident, were arrested and charged with immigration offences.
These two people were detained in a secret location by the Libyan authorities for 52 days. In clear violation of international law, Libya refused to give Swiss consular officials any news of the men, let alone the right to visit them. After their release from prison, the two men were prevented from leaving Libya, and had to take refuge in the Swiss embassy.
Last weekend, with total disregard for international law and custom, the Libyan military threatened to storm the Swiss embassy, in a manner reminiscent of the assault on the American embassy in Teheran in 1979. The incident only subsided when one of the Swiss hostages surrendered to the Libyan authorities. He is now serving a wholly unwarranted prison sentence.
Given the manner in which the Libyan elite views itself as above the law, even when sojourning in our own countries, Switzerland quite understandably decided to bar certain senior Libyan officials from entering the country. Under the pretext of Switzerland’s membership of the Schengen area, Tripoli retaliated by banning all Schengen citizens from entering Libya. In other words, Libya has again reacted by taking innocent bystanders hostage.
In these circumstances, the EU cannot stand aloof. Switzerland is a European democracy where the rule of law reigns supreme. Libya is a dictatorship that has shown total disregard for basic rules of international behaviour. As a fellow Schengen member, Switzerland deserves our unreserved support.
Miguel Mesquita da Cunha