By Thomas Escritt
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Libyan former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi faces execution if he is not extradited by Libyan authorities to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), his lawyers warned on Thursday.
Senussi is wanted by the ICC on suspicion of orchestrating brutal reprisals during the 2011 uprising that led to the fall and death of Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled the North African country with an iron fist for four decades.
Senussi, one of Gaddafi's most loyal lieutenants, and Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, who is also wanted by the ICC, are both in prison in Libya while the Hague court and the Libyan government wrangle over who has the right to try them.
In a letter sent to the president of the U.N. Security Council, Senussi's lawyers said steps to put him on trial in Libya would put the country in breach of its obligations to the ICC and to the Security Council, which referred events surrounding the Libyan uprising to The Hague.
They said Libya had deliberately ignored the ICC's arrest warrant and paid about $200 million for Senussi to be returned last year from Mauritania, where he had fled after the uprising.
An announcement by Libya's chief prosecutor that Senussi's trial would start in February showed authorities were not taking their obligations to the ICC seriously, the lawyers said.
ICC judges have ordered Libya to confirm whether the trial would indeed start in February.
"The announcement...is likely to result in irreparable harm through the imposition and execution of the death penalty," wrote Ben Emmerson, Senussi's lawyer, in the letter to the president of the Security Council.
Senussi and Saif al-Islam are among the highest-profile suspects the 10-year-old international war crimes court has charged, but their cases have come to be seen as a test of the credibility of a court that depends on the cooperation of national governments to get hold of its suspects.
Tripoli has asked ICC judges to rule that the pair can get a fair trial in Libyan courts. Libya is obliged to bow to ICC authority but the ICC has no way of forcing it to comply.
Senussi's lawyers also asked the ICC to refer Libya to the Security Council for non-compliance and order the Tripoli government to extradite Senussi to The Hague within five days.
The limits to the court's authority in Libya were dramatically illustrated last year when Melinda Taylor, Saif al-Islam's court-appointed lawyer, was arrested and detained for almost a month when she tried to visit her client.
Authorities in Zintan, the largely autonomous western mountain province where Saif al-Islam is detained, accused the Australian citizen of spying. She has denied the charges.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Mark Heinrich)