UNITED NATIONS — The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court urged Libya’s new interim government Monday to arrest the son of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and called for mercenaries and foreign fighters to leave the North African nation without delay, warning that they could face prosecution by the tribunal for atrocity crimes.
In her final briefing to the U.N. Security Council on Libya, Fatou Bensouda said the ICC continues to receive “concerning information about ongoing crimes, ranging from disappearances and arbitrary detention to murder, torture and sexual and gender-based violence.”
She pointed to serious crimes allegedly committed in official and unofficial detention facilities, as well as reports of secret trials with summary conviction and sentencing of civilians to long prison terms by military courts in eastern Libya without fair trial guarantees.
Bensouda also decried “the violent silencing of public critics as a method to terrorize the civilian population.” She said that reached a low point with the killing of human rights lawyer Hanaan Al-Barassi in Benghazi in November.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled Gadhafi in 2011 and split the oil-rich country between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, east-based commander Khalifa Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive trying to capture Tripoli. His 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the U.N.-backed government with hundreds of soldiers and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand for all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the transitional government and agreement to hold elections in December.
Bensouda noted Libya remains under the legal obligation to arrest and surrender Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and called on the Government of National Unity “to take all possible action to secure his arrest and surrender.” She also repeated calls by her office to Gadhafi to surrender himself to face charges of crimes against humanity.
The prosecutor, whose term ends June 15, lamented that two Libyans sought by the court would not face justice — Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a commander in the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, who was reportedly killed in Benghazi in March and Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former head of Libya’s Internal Security Agency, who reportedly died in Cairo.
Bensouda criticized those in power in Libya and Egypt for having refused to transfer them to the ICC and called on Libyan and Egyptian authorities to promptly investigate their reported deaths and provide information to the court.
She also said the ICC has collected “credible information and evidence on serious crimes allegedly committed in official and unofficial detention facilities in Libya.” She singled out the Mitiga Prison controlled by the Special Deterrence Force, a militia operating under Libya’s Ministry of Interior, and the Gernada and Al-Kuweifiya detention facilities controlled by the eastern-based Libyan Arab Armed Force militia.
Bensouda pointed to reports by the U.N. political mission in Libya that more than 8,850 individuals are arbitrarily detained at 28 official prisons in Libya, with an estimated 60% to 70% in pre-trial detention. “An additional 10,000 individuals are detained in other detention facilities run by militia and armed groups including about 480 women and 63 juveniles and children,” she said.
She said the Rome Statute that established the ICC prohibits the use of detention facilities in this manner, and she called for international observers and investigators to be given full access to all detention centers in the country.
The ICC has also received reports “concerning information about the activities of mercenaries and foreign fighters in Libya” consistent with the findings of U.N. experts monitoring sanctions against Libya, Bensouda said without elaborating.
“I must emphasize that crimes committed by mercenaries and foreign fighters on Libyan territory may fall under the jurisdiction of the court, no matter the nationality of the persons involved,” she said.
The U.N. estimated in December that there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. At an informal Security Council meeting in late April, speakers said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, according to diplomats — and no withdrawals have been reported.