ICC warns foreign fighters in Libya they could face prosecution

“Crimes committed by mercenaries and foreign fighters on Libyan territory may fall under the jurisdiction of the court, no matter the nationality of the persons involved,” said the ICC prosecutor.
Tuesday 18/05/2021
A file picture of Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague, the Netherlands. (REUTERS)
A file picture of Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague, the Netherlands. (REUTERS)

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK--The International Criminal Court on Monday warned mercenaries and foreign troops in war-torn Libya that they could face prosecution, demanding an end to the use of detention centres to commit a range of serious crimes.

“The office has received concerning information about the activities of mercenaries and foreign fighters in Libya,” said chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during a virtual meeting of the UN Security Council on Libya.

“Crimes committed by mercenaries and foreign fighters on Libyan territory may fall under the jurisdiction of the court, no matter the nationality of the persons involved,” she said.

According to the United Nations, more than 20,000 mercenaries and foreign troops are still deployed in Libya. That number includes Turkish soldiers as well as mercenaries from Syria, Russia, Sudan and Chad.

Bensouda said the court was receiving information about crimes against detainees ranging from disappearances and arbitrary detention to murder, torture and sexual and gender-based violence.

“We have collected credible information and evidence on serious crimes, allegedly committed in official and unofficial detention facilities in Libya,” the Gambian prosecutor said.

The UN has estimated that 8,850 people have been detained without due process in 28 official Libyan prisons while a further 10,000 people, including women and children, are being held in other facilities controlled by armed factions.

“I urge all parties to the conflict in Libya to immediately put an end to the use of detention facilities to mistreat and commit crimes against civilians,” said the prosecutor, who in mid-June will leave her position and be replaced by British lawyer Karim Khan.

After ten years in the job, Bensouda was delivering her last report to the Security Council. She said that she had also asked Libya’s interim government headed by Abdulhamid Dbeibah to take all possible action to arrest Saif Al-Islam, the son of long time ruler Muammar Gadhafi who along with his father was indicted by the ICC in 2011 for war crimes and crimes against humanity. She also called on Saif to turn himself in.

Oddly, she did not mention Gadhafi’s feared enforcer and security chief Abdullah Senussi who was also indicted by the ICC at the same time.  Both Saif and Senussi were arrested by the Libyans but the authorities refused to hand them over for trial in the Hague.

Instead they were tried, along with other senior members of the Gadhafi regime, in Libya and sentenced to death. However two years later, in circumstances that remain unclear,  Saif was set free. His current whereabouts are unknown. There have been rumours he has died or become mentally ill.

Senussi was released briefly from Tripoli’s Habda prison in June 2017 and was guest at the capital’s Radisson Blu hotel for an Iftar meal with members of his family and supporters.  At one point he had been said to be suffering from prostate cancer. He is then believed to have been returned to the prison which is nominally under the control of the Dbeibah government.

The prosecutor, whose term ends June 15, lamented that two other Libyans sought by the court would not face justice.  Mahmoud Warfalli, a commander in the self-styled Libyan National Army, who was reportedly killed in Benghazi in March and Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former head of Libya’s Internal Security Agency, who reportedly died in Cairo.

Bensouda said the ICC continues to receive “concerning information about ongoing crimes, ranging from disappearances and arbitrary detention to murder, torture and sexual and gender-based violence.”

She also decried “the violent silencing of public critics as a method to terrorise the civilian population.” She said that reached a low point with the killing of human rights lawyer Hanaan Al-Barassi in Benghazi in November.

She also said the ICC has collected “credible information and evidence on serious crimes allegedly committed in official and unofficial detention facilities in Libya.” She singled out the Mitiga Prison controlled by the Special Deterrence Force, a militia operating under Libya’s ministry of interior and the Gernada and Al-Kuweifiya detention facilities controlled by the eastern-based Libyan National Army.

Bensouda pointed to reports by the UN political mission in Libya that more than 8,850 individuals are arbitrarily detained at 28 official prisons in Libya, with an estimated 60% to 70% in pre-trial detention. “An additional 10,000 individuals are detained in other detention facilities run by militia and armed groups including about 480 women and 63 juveniles and children,” she said.

Bensouda’s record in pursuing Libyan suspects for a decade has been seen as lacklustre despite the formidable obstacles to gathering evidence in a country wracked by militia violence and intimidation.

She herself often pleaded lack of investigators and money. She referred to this in her final report “Even in the midst of serious financial constraints, the Libya situation remains one of my office’s active investigations and the situation will continue to be a priority and receive the attention it requires to advance it further … I wish to emphasise the importance of ensuring that my office receives adequate resources to continue to advance this crucial work”.  She added that next year’s budget will seek more funding for the Libyan prosecutions.