Prosecutor says International Criminal Court issues 4 arrest warrants for alleged crimes in Libya

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced Thursday that judges have issued four new arrest warrants stemming from his investigations of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Libya.

Prosecutor Karim Khan also said he recently applied for two additional warrants.

He told the U.N. Security Council that he has applied to the court’s independent judges to unseal the four new arrest warrants, and they will decide “in due course.”

Khan called the warrants “an important step in the rights of victims and survivors” for accountability, but only a first step.

The Security Council unanimously referred Libya to The Hague, Netherlands-based ICC in February 2011 to launch an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The referral followed Moammar Gadhafi’s brutal crackdown on protesters that was then taking place. The uprising, later backed by NATO, led to Gadhafi’s capture and death in October 2011.

Oil-rich Libya was then split by rival administrations, one in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Hifter, and a U.N.-supported administration in the west, in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers. Libya’s current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections in December 2021, with rivals at odds including over the current prime minister and eligibility requirements for presidential candidates.

Khan, who visited Libya last November, said the arrest warrants are part of the ICC’s “renewed activity and greater focus” on Libya. He told the council a team from his office will travel to the country again in the coming weeks and he hopes to establish a field office in Tripoli.

Since November, he said, the ICC has supported prosecutions in Italy and the Netherlands stemming from acts in Libya.

The ICC prosecutor stressed the importance of partnerships and the urgency of galvanizing the Security Council and the international community to act to bring justice to victims. In November, Khan said his office had joined a coalition of nations investigating human trafficking in the country.

Khan spoke movingly of talking to victims and survivors in the western town of Tarhuna where hundreds of corpses were uncovered in several graves after militia fighters loyal to eastern Libyan military leader Gen. Khalifa Hifter retreated from the area in June 2020 after failing to take the capital Tripoli.

“They’re not seeing that their lives matter,” he said. “There is a gap between the promise of justice, the prayer of never again (after World War II’s atrocities), the specter of international institutions working for them. They see that they are still in refugee camps. They are dislocated. They’re living in fear around the world.”

Khan said the victims don’t trust the 15-member Security Council, the ICC and the U.N. which they see “as all talk because they’re not seeing enough change in their lives” – and this is something every country and all people need to recognize and make efforts to improve.

A statement from the 10 Security Council nations that are parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC said the court plays an important role in international peace and security and welcomed its “concrete actions” in Libya.

“We encourage the ICC to continue its efforts to enhance its engagement in Libya” and “hope to see further cooperation from Libyan authorities,” said the statement from Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The United States is not a party to the court, but the U.S. Mission’s legal adviser, Mark Simonoff, told the council that the work of the ICC in Libya “plays a critical role in support of out collective pursuit of accountability, peace and security.”

By contrast, Russia’s new deputy ambassador, Maria Zabolotskaya, delivered a vitriolic denunciation of the ICC.

She called it a “puppet tribunal” with a “puppet prosecutor” that serves “the interests of the collective West.” She said it acted as “a full-fledged accomplice in NATO’s military aggression against Libya,” which “completely ruined its statehood and triggered a protracted civil war.”