Not long ago, I suggested that the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Libya might not be finished. My belief was that the Court would go after alleged international criminals residing outside Libya. They still might. But if the Libyan government has its way, the Court will actually prosecute militias currently causing violent ruckus and disarray within the country.
It is no secret that Libya is reaching a dire state. While the situation in the country has been overshadowed by events in Gaza and Eastern Ukraine, stability and order in Libya are being severely threatened. To those who have followed events in the country, that won’t come as much of a surprise. As report after report has shown, the country has been thrown into a political and security vacuum following the demise of the Gaddafi regime.
After forty years a civil society-less existence, Libyans were left with almost no fully functional state institutions. Militias, armed to the teeth from the civil war and now the flourishing arms routes (really more like highways) across the Maghreb and Sahel, moved to fill the security void. Some were supported by the government. Others, however, are responsible for ongoing violence and atrocity. Speaking to the United Nations Security Council last week, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz even referred to his country as a potential “failed state” — three times. In an remarkably frank discussion indicative of the deteriorating situation, Abdelaziz also added that “Libya has no witness protection facilities” and that the country suffers from an “absence of a strong and effective and humane criminal justice system.”
Amidst intensifying violence, the government has decided to seek external help. Last week, Tripoli asked the United Nations Security Council to consider sending in a stabilization team. In truth, this should have happened in October 2011 when the regime of Muammar Gaddafi collapsed. But neither the Security Council (and especially NATO member states) nor the Libyan government had any appetite for an external force being deployed in-country. The current situation, however, has left Tripoli desperate. With its back against the wall, the government has dramatically altered its political calculus.
According to Moutaz Ali of the Libya Herald, Libyan officials are attempting to persuade the ICC’s Prosecutor to open an investigation into militias currently involved in violence around the capital:
Libya is looking into the possibility of allowing the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute those responsible for the recent violence in Tripoli and elsewhere, notably the attacks on Tripoli International Airport.
The Minister of Justice, Salah Marghani, discussed the idea with the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, in The Hague yesterday, according to the Prime Minister’s office.
The move represents an abrupt about turn. Previously the Libya authorities had rejected the ICC’s demands to hand over Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi and Abdullah Senoussi, both of whom have been indicted by the ICC, saying they were capable of trying them in Libya.
The ICC cannot initiate prosecutions by itself. But it can take them on if they have been referred to it by the UN Security Coucil (as was the case with Saif Al-Islam and Senoussi) or if the government of a country where the incidents took place asks it to do so because it is incapable of doing so itself.
The Ministry of Justice had warned earlier this week that it was in consultation with international and national legal bodies about prosecuting those military groups which had refused its order to immediately stop the fighting and the launching of missile attacks.
“The situation is serious and all parties must realise that no one is above the law. If not today, they will be prosecuted in the future,” Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Lamin told the Libya Herald. “They are damaging facilities owned by all Libyans” he said.
The decision to possibly transfer authority for prosecution to the ICC appears to be directed at both Misratan and Zintani forces, their commanders and those behind them.