LIBYA: Rights groups praise arrest-warrant request for Kadafi, call for action in Syria
Human rights groups on Monday called the International Criminal Court prosecutor's request for arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, his son Seif Islam Kadafi and Abdullah Sanoussi, his military intelligence chief, a first step toward achieving justice, but they said more needs to be done to stop abuses in Libya, Syria and throughout the region.
"The request for arrest warrants is a step forward for international justice and accountability in the region," said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International's director of law and policy.
"However, the international community that came together in such unprecedented agreement to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court cannot allow justice to appear selective. By any standard, what is happening in Syria is just as bad as the situation was in Libya when the [United Nations] Security Council referred that country to the ICC."
Amnesty International's research in Libya since February points to the commission of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes, according to a statement the London-based group released Monday.
The group called on the U.N. Security Council to "uphold the neutrality of international justice" by authorizing an ICC investigation into killings of hundreds of protesters in Syria.
"Real international justice has to be for everyone in the Middle East and North Africa," Bochenek said.
Richard Dicker, international justice director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, called the ICC warrants, "a warning bell to others that serious crimes will not go unpunished."
"It's a message to those responsible for grave abuses that they will be held to account for their actions," he said in a statement Monday.
"Libyan civilians who have lived through a nightmare over the past months deserve redress through an independent and impartial judicial process," Dicker said. "Today's announcement offers them that chance."
Criminal liability before the ICC applies to both those who physically commit crimes and to their commanders, including heads of state, Dicker said.
Should the court issue an arrest warrant for Kadafi, it would not be the first warrant for a sitting head of state by an international court, he said.
In 1999, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued its first indictment against then-President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo. In 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone unsealed its indictment of Charles Taylor, then-president of Liberia. More recently, the ICC issued two arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
"Seeking an arrest warrant for Moammar Kadafi for crimes in Libya shows that no one is above the law," Dicker said. "It is the prosecutor's job to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even to a head of state."
Human Rights Watch officials urged the ICC prosecutor to continue to investigate major crimes that may have been committed by all parties in Libya, including war crimes.
"Accountability for Libya should include investigating possible crimes committed by both government and opposition forces," Dicker said. "We look to the prosecutor to implement his mandate impartially so that those responsible for grave abuses face justice, regardless of their political allegiances."
He said Human Rights Watch has documented potential war crimes committed by Libyan government forces, including attacks on residential neighborhoods in Misrata and towns in the western mountains near Tunisia.
In an April letter to the prosecutor's office, the self-appointed opposition authority in Libya, the Interim Transitional National Council, promised to cooperate with the ICC.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo
Photo: Seif Islam Kadafi speaks in front of a poster of his father, Moammar Kadafi, at a gathering in Tripoli, Libya, in July 2008. Credit: Sabri Elmhedwi / EPA