Libya and ICC Dispute Over Custody of Former Intelligence Chief
Libya interim authorities escalated on Wednesday their confrontation with the International Criminal Court over custody of the most important cronies of the former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam and his brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi.
The authorities have made some comments on their legal status which come in contradiction to the views of the ICC on the matter. This confrontation comes after the leaders of the rebels hailed the decision of the ICC to issue an international arrest warrant in their names.
Leaders of the government and some human rights activists agree that Libya lacks police, tribunals and prisons where to hold the captives as well as the wherewithal to ensure that the judges, lawyers or witnesses are not corrupted by the armed militias.
Even so, the interim authorities are determined to judge Seif al-Islam and Abdullah Senussi in Libya, motivating their decision that the two might say many things about assets and actions of the former regime.
Libya is expected to hold elections in June, and the desire of the public for revenge cannot be bucked at a time like this. The elections were contested a few weeks ago by a local council in Cyrenaica, which proclaimed its autonomy and demanded that the elections be postponed until the country is organized in a federal fashion.
The National Transitional Council reacted angrily to this proposition and said that they would retain the integrity of the country by force, if need be. This problem only adds to the difficult situation in the restive country in the wake of the toppling of the Qaddafi regime.
Seif al-Islam was apprehended in November last year, a few weeks after the demise of his father, and has been kept in the town of Zintan ever since, in the custody of a militia. Then the Libyan transitional authorities said that they wanted to judge Seif in Libya, which the International Criminal Court found in order as long as Libya has the standards to offer him a trial at the standards of the ICC.
The ICC first prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo visited Libya on that occasion and said that it is costumary for the ICC to allow this kind of trial as long as he is guaranteed a safe, correct and free trial, as he would be, if he were tried in ICC courthouse.
Seif al-Islam has been visited by ICC envoys periodically to see if he was not submitted to any torture or demeaning practices, and the son of the former president confirmed that he was treated well, and had been submitted to no ill treatment.
On Wednesday, the matter was brought into question again as it became public that former chief spy of the Qaddafi regime had been apprehended in Mauritania. France demanded that it be offered custody of Senussi, because he must answer for some of the actions in the past which involve the killing of some French citizens, such as the bombing of a passenger jet in 1989, as a result of which 170 people lost their lives, 54 of them being French. Senussi was tried and convicted in France in absentia.
He was apprehended in Mauritania, at the Nouakchott airport, as a result of an operation orchestrated by the French intelligence services. The Libyan authorities immediately dispatched a delegation to demand the Mauritanian authorities to surrender the captive.
They said that Mauritania had committed to rendering to the authorities in Libya. The deputy prime minister of the Libyan government said that soon Senussi would be in a prison in Libya.
The deputy prime minister said that Libya was building a “five-star prison” to accommodate the special inmates and to please the ICC. A spokesman for the ICC said that a final decision has not yet been made, and that it would be final only after Libya has proved that it can meet the standards requested for such a trial.
A member of the NTC said that the conflict has escalated because the ICC wants Seif al-Islam, considering that Libya cannot organize his process, to gather evidence or present the case. Brought to trial under these conditions, he added, could help him walk free.
Seif al-Islam has a lawyer hired in Jerusalem by his sister, which has already complained that the Libyan authorities did not allow him to contact his client. The ICC has also dispatched two attorney from its public defense office.11