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ICC Poised to Issue Warrants on Libya

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, May 4 2011 (IPS) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) appears poised to issue arrest warrants for three yet unnamed high-level members of the Libyan government for committing alleged crimes against humanity during the past two months of political turmoil that has taken thousands of lives.

“I don’t care about political colours,” Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Hague, Netherlands-based ICC prosecutor, told IPS after a press conference here, in response to a question about whether or not he would also consider investigating Libya’s opposition figures.

On Wednesday, Ocampo briefed the 15-member U.N. Security Council. His report indicated that the alleged war crimes committed “include the use of imprecise weaponry such as cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas, in particular Misurata”.

“The evidence shows that events in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia prompted Libyan security forces to begin preparations for the possibility of demonstrations in Libya. As early as January, mercenaries were being hired and brought into Libya,” Ocampo told the Council.

He did not elaborate on where the so-called “mercenaries” came from, although they have been widely reported to be African.

In his briefing to the Council, Ocampo acknowledged that U.N.- authorised military action by NATO to enforce a no-fly zone also “led to civilian casualties in Libya”, and added that the ongoing violence in that country could “only be halted through an immediate ceasefire and political settlement”.

Ocampo said he was looking into the U.N. inquiry commission report on the alleged crimes against humanity that is expected to be completed by the end of this month before he asks judges in The Hague to issue arrest warrants.

A U.N. Security Council resolution empowers the ICC prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those in Libya responsible for committing crimes that under the rules of the ICC could be perceived as war crimes.

The ICC prosecutor did not say whether he would ask the court for an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who has been asking NATO forces for the past few days to engage in a dialogue to resolve Libya’s political crisis.

Media reports suggest that neither Washington nor its European allies are in the mood to heed that call.

“The specter of ICC prosecution is serious and imminent and should again warn those around Gaddafi about the perils of continuing to tie their fate to his,” Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told the Security Council Wednesday.

The United States has yet to endorse the treaty that created the International Criminal Court.

China, also a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, holds a different position on the question of the Libyan situation.

“[We are] not in favour of any arbitrary interpretation of Security Council’s resolutions nor any actions that go beyond the Council’s mandate concerning Libya,” said Li Baodong, the Chinese permanent representative to the U.N., after Ocampo’s briefing. “We hope that the ICC will fully consider the need of properly solving the Libyan crisis when implementing Resolution 1970.”

The Chinese diplomat said the international community should “respect the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Libya” and added that “the internal affairs and the future of Libya should be left to Libyan people.”

Like the United States and Russia, among the five permanent members of the 15-member Security Council, China has not endorsed the endorsed the U.N. treaty establishing the ICC.

In response to a question from IPS about the ICC role in Libya, Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said the investigation into human rights violations and war crimes in Libya should not merely be focused on the government but the opposition as well.

“The ICC should be investigating alleged crimes committed by all parties,” he told IPS.

Others are more sceptical of the prosecution campaign.

Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, recently told IPS it was obvious the killings of civilians in Libya constitute “war crimes”.

Killing protestors may well be a crime against humanity and subject to ICC jurisdiction upon a referral by the U.N. Security Council, he pointed out.

“It is appalling. Unfortunately, the Security Council and particularly the United States have little credibility to focus their wrath on Libya,” said Ratner.

The Security Council, in large part, has lost its credibility because of the U.S. refusal to make such a referral when the Israelis slaughtered Palestinians in Gaza, he added.

“Why Libya now and not Israel in 2009?” asked Ratner.

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