Moammar Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, recently released from half a decade of captivity by a Libyan militia group, has hit a major stumbling block in his bid to become a unifying figure for war-torn Libya: the International Criminal Court wants him arrested and hauled before a war crimes trial in the Hague.
This is not an entirely surprising development because the ICC has made it clear all along that it considers Qaddafi’s case very much open. It was not clear until now just how aggressively the court would pursue him, but it was made very clear indeed in a statement on Wednesday from chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Bensouda declared that the 2011 arrest warrant against Saif “remains valid, and Libya is obliged to immediately arrest and surrender Mr. Qaddafi.” She called upon any other state that has an opportunity to arrest Qaddafi to do so if he leaves Libya.
“Helping a fugitive to escape justice must not be tolerated, and Mr. Gaddafi must be surrendered to the custody of the Court,” Bensouda declared.
She added this directive supersedes “any purported amnesty law in Libya.” One of Libya’s several governments declared an amnesty throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Another Libyan government sentenced Qaddafi to death in absentia in 2015 and has given no indication of rescinding its judgment.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) applauded the ICC’s demand to bring Saif al-Islam to justice, citing a U.N. Security Council resolution requiring Libyan authorities to cooperate with the ICC, while also accusing his former captors of human-rights abuses for their treatment of him.
“The reported release of Gaddafi based on a flawed amnesty law does not change the fact that he is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity. The Zintan brigade, which alleges that it released him, should urgently disclose his current whereabouts,” said HRW International Justice Director Richard Dicker.
However, Human Rights Watch also noted that the Zintan brigade held Qaddafi incommunicado, subjected him to solitary confinement, denied him access to legal counsel, illegally interrogated him, and held him long after the Libyan government the brigade nominally answers to ordered his release.
Also, HRW noted that the Libyan court which sentenced Qaddafi to death did not meet international fair trial standards and cited the wording of the Libyan amnesty law to point out that it does not cover the human-rights offenses Qaddafi stands accused of, concluding that only the International Criminal Court can handle the case. In fact, Human Rights Watch wants the ICC to take over more investigations and prosecutions of Libyans on all sides of its many-sided conflict for human rights violations, including the abuse of migrants.