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ICC working on new Libya arrest warrants over suspected Haftar war crimes

Fatou Bensouda addressed the UN Security Council on potential war crimes in Libya [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 May, 2020

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Military commanders allied to Haftar's LNA may face responsibility for crimes committed by their forces during the offensive to take the Libyan capital, the ICC's chief prosecutor announced.
The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor said on Tuesday her office is working on new arrest warrants in Libya, pointing out that military commanders may be held responsible for crimes committed by their forces, namely the targeting of civilians with air strikes and artillery fire.

Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council that Libya remains a priority for her office. She noted the offensive launched over a year ago by eastern-based forces under military commander Khalifa Haftar trying to take the capital, Tripoli, has not abated.

She said her office is monitoring events, particularly civilian casualties from air strikes and shelling and incidents that may constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute that established the ICC.

Intentionally targeting the civilian population "is a war crime under the Rome Statute", which also prohibits the targeting of hospitals and other health, education and religious buildings, she said.

In-depth: Is Libya on the road to de facto partition?

Bensouda did not name any individuals as possibly facing arrest warrants.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed by rebel forces. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by a loose coalition of armed groups. The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) controls the capital Tripoli.

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Haftar's offensive is backed internationally by Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and others, while the UN-backed GNA in Tripoli has military backing from Turkey.

Libya’s UN Ambassador Taher El-Sonni echoed Bensouda's statements, accusing Haftar of committing war crimes. He told the council that the government’s military prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for Haftar and other leaders under his command.

"What is the ICC waiting for to hold accountable all those responsible for these violations that was indicated today that have been committed by the so-called National Army?" he asked, referring to Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

He also said there must also be accountability for countries and officials outside Libya who support and finance the violations and mercenaries from several nations who carry them out.

Speaking via a video connection, Bensouda said her office also is pursuing investigations involving the "grave and persistent problem" of arbitrary detentions as well as serious mistreatment of migrants and refugees attempting to transit through Libya.

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She said information indicates that people detained without proper protection have been tortured and murdered and that men, women and children have been subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence.

"Former detainees report brutal methods of torture," she said. "Detainees have died from injuries sustained through torture, and from the failure to provide proper and timely medical care."

Bensouda said reports received by her office also indicate "increasing numbers of cases of enforced disappearance, committed with close to total impunity", which can be a crime against humanity.

She cited the case of Siham Sergewa, a member of the Libyan House of Representatives, as "emblematic of this disturbing trend".

Sergewa has been missing since 17 July, when armed men reportedly kidnapped her from her home in the eastern city of Benghazi, the prosecutor said.

Last November, Bensouda said her office had reliable information on the locations of three people subject to arrest warrants by the ICC.

She said then that Saif Islam Gaddafi, the late dictator's son, was believed to be in the Libyan town of Zintan. Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a commander in Haftar’s forces, was in the Benghazi area and Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former head of the Libyan Internal Security Agency, was in Cairo. She said on Tuesday that all three remain fugitives.

Bensouda told the council Tuesday that "Gaddafi is a willful fugitive, actively evading justice both in Libya and before the International Criminal Court", and that al-Werfalli and Khaled have not been arrested.

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