New York Times | Marlise Simons | June 27, 2011
PARIS — The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants on Monday for Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, one of his sons and his intelligence chief, accusing them of crimes against humanity during the first two weeks of the uprising in Libya that led to a NATO bombing campaign.
The decision had been expected since the chief prosecutor announced in May that he was seeking judges orders for the men’s arrest.
Beside Mr. Qaddafi, warrants were issued for his son Seif al-Islam and the chief of military intelligence, Abdullah Senussi. Reading out the decision, the presiding judge, Sanji Monogeng of Botswana, said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that the three were criminally responsible for the murder and persecution of hundreds of civilians during peaceful protests in February. The judge said it was impossible to know the number of people wounded, killed or imprisoned because the crimes were covered up.
The arrest order, another step in the isolation of the Qaddafi regime, immediately raised the questions of how — and whether — the court could gain custody of the men since it has no police powers of its own. Libya is not among the 115 countries that recognize the court, and Libyan officials have already dismissed any court action as irrelevant.
One possible solution, lawyers said, would be for Libyan rebels to capture the men and send them to The Hague. But even as rebel fighters have loosened Colonel Qaddafi’s grip on the mountain towns southwest of Tripoli in recent weeks, they have been unable to reach the heavily defended capital. On Monday, rebels based in the mountains pushed north and east to the town of Bir al Ghanam, roughly 100 miles from Tripoli, in heavy fighting with Qaddafi forces, news agencies reported.
Failing a rebel capture of Colonel Qaddafi, NATO, now in the 100th day of its air campaign against Qaddafi’s forces, could expand its mandate to include the arrest of the three Libyans. But any overt or covert operations to track down the suspects would require that NATO leaders revise their current policy of limiting alliance action to aerial attacks.
Prosecutors in The Hague hope that the United Nations Security Council, which has requested the investigation of possible crimes in Libya, will find ways to encourage the arrest of the suspects and allow the court to go beyond statements and orders that may not be enforced.
But diplomats may oppose such a move on the grounds that they want to keep the road to a political solution open, as they have previously said. Even so, Mr. Qaddafi and his inner circle have consistently resisted suggestions that they be given safe passage to exile abroad.
Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said that after more than 40 years in power, “Qaddafi has made clear his determination to hang on; it defies belief that his arrest warrant is an obstacle to a negotiated settlement of the Libya crisis.”
The scope of the accusations against the three Libyans were limited to events from Feb. 18 to Feb. 28, before a full-scale conflict erupted between the Qaddafi regime and rebel forces and well before the start of the NATO air campaign. Nonetheless, the prosecutor has said he will investigate possible violations by the rebel side, but has not mentioned civilians deaths caused by NATO bombing.
The judges’ statement on Monday said that Col. Qaddafi would have to answer charges of crimes because he had “absolute, ultimate and unquestioned “control over the state. His son, Saif al-Islam, was described as “the most influential person” in Col. Qaddafi’s inner circle with control over finances and logistics and “the powers of a de facto prime minister.” They said that Mr. Sanussi had directly ordered attacks last February’s attacks on civilians in Benghazi as the head of military intelligence, “one of the most powerful and efficient instruments of repression.”
Even if the three men are not expected in The Hague any time soon, some politicians and diplomats have made it clear that they see arrest warrants as useful tools against political leaders once they become publicly identified as potential war criminals. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, who is wanted by the court on genocide charges, remains strong at home, but he has skipped a number of international meetings to avoid the possibility of arrest. Even leaders from countries friendly to Mr. Bashir have kept him at bay by saying that envoys from other countries would stay away from gatherings if he were present. Mr. Bashir, who was travelling to China on Monday, was unexpectedly delayed and forced to change his flight plan when it turned out that he was requested not to go through the air space of Turkmenistan.
For the court, which has jurisdiction over cases dating only to 2002, Mr. Qaddafi’s arrest warrant was the second issued for a sitting president, after that of Mr. Bashir. Other international courts in recent years have indicted two sitting presidents for war crimes, Charles G. Taylor of Liberia and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. Both were eventually arrested and brought to trial.