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Chief Prosecutor of International Criminal Court tells Security Council he will seek arrest warrants soon against three individuals in first Libya case

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Security Council
6528th Meeting (AM)

Says Credible Evidence Indicates up to 700 Killed in February Alone; ‘Such Atrocities Seared the Human Conscience’, Says Member, Lauding Referral to Court

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court told the Security Council today that he planned to seek arrest warrants in the coming weeks against three Libyans who appeared to bear “the greatest criminal responsibility” for crimes against humanity committed during Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi’s brutal, months-long crackdown against the anti-Government uprising in the North African country.

Briefing the Council on the initial results of his investigation, launched following the 15-member body’s unanimous 26 February decision to refer the situation in Libya to the Court, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo laid out evidence in support of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including shooting peaceful demonstrators, as well as ongoing violent repression and systematic persecutions, together with murder, imprisonment, rape and torture. Reporting that civilians had been used as human shields and targeted with heavy weapons and cluster munitions, he also said that Libyan forces had blocked delivery of humanitarian supplies.

“The evidence collected has confirmed the fears and concerns expressed in [Security Council] resolution 1970,” he said, noting that two months ago the body had deplored the “gross and systematic violation of human rights”. The evidence collected thus far had also revealed that events in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia had promoted Libyan security forces to begin preparations for the possibility of demonstrations there. “As early as January, mercenaries were being hired and brought into Libya,” he said.

While he acknowledged that efforts to cover up the crimes committed in the wake of the popular uprising made it difficult to ascertain the precise number of victims, he told the Council that there was credible information that estimated that some 500 to 700 persons had been killed in February alone when Libyan security forces had fired live ammunition at demonstrators gathered in Benghazi’s High Court Square.

The difficulty of obtaining concrete figures on the number of dead was compounded by the fact that countless bodies had been removed from the streets and hospitals of Benghazi, Misrata and elsewhere. Doctors were not allowed to document the number of dead and injured admitted to their care, and many people were afraid to report incidents to the authorities: “Being injured became evidence of opposing the regime, and challenging the authority of the regime is a crime under Libyan law,” he said.

Providing no names for those who would be the subject of the arrest warrants, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo stressed that, in all the incidents he would present to the judges at the Hague-based Court, the victims who had been shot at by security forces had been unarmed civilians, and there was no evidence of any attack against security forces. “To prove the case, the Office [of the Prosecutor] has collected different types of evidence: there are at least two eyewitnesses for each incident, documents and, in many cases, corroboration of details by pictures or videos,” he said. Cases would be opened as necessary, taking into account the full scope of criminality — including war crimes — allegedly committed by different individuals. He would inform the Council in advance before proceeding.

He said that arresting those who had ordered the commission of crimes would contribute to the protection of Libyan civilians because it would deter ongoing crimes, remove those who had ordered them, and send a serious message to other potential perpetrators, in Libya and elsewhere, that the international community would not condone such acts. Mr. Ocampo capped his briefing with a quote from a speech delivered by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the recent review of the Rome Statute in Kampala, Uganda: “‘Now we have the [International Criminal Court], permanent, increasingly powerful, casting a long shadow. There is no going back. In this new age of accountability, those who commit the worst of human crimes will be held accountable.’”

All members of the Council took the floor, expressing their appreciation for the speed with which Mr. Moreno-Ocampo’s Office had launched its investigation and the diligence shown by Court officials and staff thus far. The representative of the United States said that as the investigations continued, it was important for the international community to remain united in its efforts to protect civilians and areas under civilian control. The United States supported the Prosecutor’s swift work on the mandate given to him by the Council, and considered that the outcome was “serious and imminent, and should warn those around Qadhafi about the perils of continuing to tie their fate to his”, she said.

While the representative of the Russian federation emphasized that his Government was concerned by the mounting civilian casualties and ongoing violence in Libya, he said it was unfortunate to note that some civilian deaths had occurred as a result of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air strikes. He, therefore, stressed that all parties must ensure the safety of civilians and that all actions must be carried out in strict compliance with resolution 1973 (2011). Going beyond the ambit of that resolution was “unacceptable”.

The representative of France, whose delegation holds the Council’s rotating presidency for the month, said that, when a Government attacked its citizens instead of protecting them, “such atrocities seared the human conscience”. In referring the situation in Libya to the Court, the Council had taken an important, informed decision so that those responsible for such crimes would be prosecuted. The judicial process must continue. While the Court would prosecute those who organized, ordered or financed crimes, there was still time for those who had been misguided to disassociate themselves from that campaign.

Also speaking were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Germany, Portugal, India, Gabon, Brazil, Colombia, China, Nigeria, South Africa, Lebanon and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m.