By Marie-Louise Gumuchian
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya says it is building its case against Muammar Gaddafi's detained son, gathering witnesses and documents, according to the Hague-based war crimes prosecutor, as it seeks to persuade the International Criminal Court to allow for a local trial.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam last year after prosecutors accused him and others of involvement in the killing of protesters during the revolt that eventually toppled his father, who ruled with an iron fist for 42 years.
It has called on Libya to hand Saif al-Islam over but Tripoli has insisted he will be tried in his home country after his capture in the southern desert in November.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo travelled to Libya this week as part of ICC investigations into crimes committed during Libya's war, meeting the head of the ruling National Transitional Council and chief prosecutor.
"I understand he has more than 30 witnesses, he's got documents, he has interceptions, so I understand he has a strong case but I don't know the details," Moreno-Ocampo told a news conference on Saturday, adding he had not seen the information as it remains confidential at this stage of the investigation.
"Libya has to present the argument to the judges."
Tripoli is to outline its case to the ICC on April 30 as to why it should put Saif-al Islam on trial.
Libya has the right to try him on its soil following his arrest there. The ICC will only act if a country is deemed unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute, for instance when its legal system has collapsed.
Moreno-Ocampo said it seemed unlikely any trial would transpire before Libya's first free elections in June.
"There is no deadline for the judges. I suppose two, three months but in the meantime I don't see a trial in Libya before that because the process requires first an accusation."
DOUBTS ABOUT LIBYAN JUSTICE
Several human rights groups have questioned whether the Libyan justice system can meet the standards of international law as the interim national government struggles to impose its authority on a myriad of armed groups.
The Libyan government has yet to convince the former Zintan rebel fighters who captured Saif al-Islam to turn him over to its custody.
Moreno-Ocampo said he was told that Gaddafi's son had not been mistreated. "(Saif's location) is a matter for the national authorities. Respecting Saif's well-being is also matter for the national authorities," he said.
Moreno-Ocampo added that it was critical for Libyans who fought against the injustices of the Gaddafi regime to now show they could "respect justice for a person like Saif."
The ICC is also investigating rapes committed during Libya's conflict. Moreno-Ocampo, who travelled to Misrata - scene of some of the bloodiest fighting last year, said his mission was considering how to tackle the taboo subject, looking at gathering evidence against top officials of the old regime, some of whom are outside Libya.
While there have been allegations of rape used as a weapon during the fighting, it remains unclear how widespread violence against women was. Rape is a highly sensitive issue in the Muslim country and is rarely discussed in public.
"Libya has to give recognition to these people, because if not, it will be double punishment - they were raped and now they are marginalized," Moreno-Ocampo said.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)