Court: Libyan trials could be a 'new Nuremberg'

AP News
Posted: May 08, 2013 12:12 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — If Libya can conduct fair trials of the top henchmen of the overthrown Gadhafi regime, it could be "Libya's Nuremberg moment," the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Wednesday.

Fatou Bensounda told the Security Council that her office is still investigating allegations of serious crimes committed by former Gadhafi officials, some of whom are now outside of Libya, and said the ICC plans to make a decision soon on a second major case and on more cases of Gadhafi regime officials after that.

Bensounda said she was also concerned about allegations of crimes committed by rebel forces, including the expulsion and exile of residents of the town of Tawergha, which had been a pro-Gadhafi stronghold.

Tawergha was used as a staging ground by Gadhafi's forces to launch attacks on nearby Misrata, Libya's third largest city. After rebels broke the siege of Misrata and overran Tawergha, the town's 40,000 residents fled or were driven out by vengeful rebels. Scores were held in prisons under militias' command in Misrata and Tripoli, where human rights groups recorded cases of torture and abuse.

Now the displaced residents live in harsh conditions in refugee camps in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Bensouda also said her office was looking into "ongoing alleged persecution of ethnic groups perceived to have been affiliated with the Gadhafi regime," and incidents such as the "alleged execution of 50 persons on the grounds of the Mahari Hotel in Sirte in October 2011."

Last year, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had obtained a mobile phone video clip taken by militiamen showing a large number of prisoners from Gadhafi's convoy being cursed and abused by opposition fighters. The remains of least 17 of the detainees in the phone video were later identified in a group of 66 bodies found at Sirte's Mahari hotel, some still with their hands tied behind their back. Human Rights Watch said it used hospital morgue photos to confirm the victims' identities.

Bensouda said the International Criminal Court was investigating the "alleged arbitrary detention, torture, killings and destruction of property that arose during Libyan government and militia operations in Bani Walid in September 2012."

Richard Dicker, the director of international justice programs at Human Rights Watch, said that "Sadly, the new Libya is still plagued by serious abuses, some amounting to crimes against humanity."

"The authorities are failing to stop the persecution of the Tawergha community and have yet to end widespread arbitrary detention, sometimes accompanied by deadly abuses. The time has come for the Security Council to sanction officials and militia commanders who ordered or failed to prevent serious crimes," Dicker said.

Libya and the International Criminal Court have been dueling over who will try Moammar Gadhafi's former spy chief Abdullah al-Senoussi and one of Gadhafi's sons, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi. Both are in Libya, which claims the right to try them.

Bensouda told the Security Council that the ICC and Libya continue to consult over the trial venue. "The ICC's mandate is still essential to ending impunity in Libya," she said.

Bensouda noted Libya's desire to try the major perpetrators of crimes against humanity, rather than send them to The Hague for trial by the ICC.

"What happens with Libya's perpetrators is a page in the history book of international justice, no matter where their investigations and prosecutions take place," she said.