Yesterday's decision by the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Muammar Gaddafi should be arrested and tried for crimes against opponents of his regime in Libya may not have any immediate effect but it is nonetheless an important step in the process set in motion by the unanimous United Nations Security Council Resolution of 28 February. It is indirectly a valuable endorsement of the military action undertaken and still in progress by Nato. Although the ICC decision was immediately welcomed by Libyan rebels now fighting to displace Gaddafi it is quite possible that it will strengthen his determination to hold on to his limited power indefinitely; it is also likely that the fact he has now been formally accused by the ICC will limit the number of countries willing to offer him a safe haven.
Gaddafi becomes only the second head of state to be indicted while in office; the other is the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir who was named last year for crimes against humanity in Darfur. By a coincidence al-Bashir was due to visit China this week but without any explanation he failed to arrive there yesterday as planned. Although China is not a signatory of the ICC treaty there has been speculation that the Chinese government did not want to be seen hosting a president who has been specifically charged by the ICC.