Rebuffing the United States and Britain, the World Court ruled Friday that it has the authority to settle a dispute deadlocking a trial of two Libyans suspected of blowing up a jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
The ruling did not address the crucial question of where a trial could be held, but it paves the way for the court to eventually make that decision. Libya, the United States and Britain have been fighting over the issue for years.
But because the World Court, the United Nations’ highest judicial body, often takes years to reach decisions, Friday’s ruling further delays a possible trial--if there ever is one.
Some relatives of the 270 people killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 were angered by the ruling, calling it a victory for Libya; others saw it as the only way out of the legal logjam that has frustrated them for nearly a decade.
“I think it’s a disaster. I think it struck a blow against justice,” said Stephanie Bernstein of Bethesda, Md., whose husband, Michael, was among those killed.
Libyan leader Moammar “Kadafi for 10 years now has been able to drag this out, been able to hire all kinds of high-powered legal help,” she said. “He has done everything in his power to avoid what should be done, which is to turn over the two suspects.”
Libya had asked the court to lift U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed to force it to extradite the suspects to the United States or Britain.
Libya has so far refused to turn over the men, and the U.S. and Britain argued that the World Court has no jurisdiction to hear Libya’s case.
But the judges voted 13 to 2--with the American and British justices opposed--that they do have the authority to step in.
The court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, will now focus on whether to lift the sanctions. If they are lifted, that could allow Libya to try the men at home, or at least turn them over for trial to a neutral country.
Libya hailed Friday’s ruling.
It proves that “the unjust and inhuman sanctions imposed on the Libyan Arab people are invalid and null, and exposes the fabrications about international legitimacy of . . . America and Britain,” the Libyan Foreign Ministry said.
Libya claims that a 1971 civil aviation convention gives it the right to try the suspects, and it contends that they would not get a fair trial in a U.S. or Scottish court. Libya’s government also maintains that the men are innocent of charges that they planted the suitcase bomb that shredded U.S.-bound Flight 103.