TANZANIA, Tanzania — The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said Tuesday her office is working on new arrest warrants in Libya, pointing to the high number of civilian casualties from airstrikes and artillery fire while stressing that military commanders may be held responsible for crimes committed by their forces.
Fatou Bensouda told the U.N. Security Council that Libya remains a priority for her office. She noted the offensive launched over a year ago by eastern-based forces under military commander Khalifa Hifter trying to take the capital, Tripoli, has not abated.
She said her office is monitoring events, particularly civilian casualties from airstrikes and shelling and incidents that may constitute crimes under the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court.
Bensouda did not identify any individuals as possibly facing arrest warrants. But she said intentionally targeting the civilian population “is a war crime under the Rome Statute,” which also prohibits the targeting of hospitals and other health, education and religious buildings.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups.
Hifter’s offensive is also backed by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries, the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey, Italy and Qatar.
Libya’s U.N. Ambassador Taher El-Sonni accused Hifter of committing the “war crimes” that Bensouda cited and told the council the government’s military prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for Hifter and other leaders under his command.
“What is the ICC waiting for to hold accountable all those responsible for these violations that was indicated today that have been committed by the so-called National Army” led by Hifter? he asked.
He also said there must also be accountability for countries and officials outside Libya who support and finance the violations and mercenaries from several nations who carry them out.
Speaking via a video connection, Bensouda said her office also is pursuing investigations involving the “grave and persistent problem” of arbitrary detentions as well as serious mistreatment of migrants and refugees attempting to transit through Libya.
She said information indicates that people detained without proper protection have been tortured and murdered and that men, women and children have been subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence.
“Former detainees report brutal methods of torture,” she said. “Detainees have died from injuries sustained through torture, and from the failure to provide proper and timely medical care.”
Bensouda said reports received by her office also indicate “increasing numbers of cases of enforced disappearance, committed with close to total impunity,” which can be a crime against humanity.
She cited the case of Siham Sergewa, a member of the Libyan House of Representatives, as “emblematic of this disturbing trend.” Sergewa has been missing since July 17, when armed men reportedly kidnapped her from her home in the eastern city of Benghazi, the prosecutor said.
Last November, Bensouda said her office had reliable information on the locations of three people subject to arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court.
She said then that Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the late dictator’s son, was believed to be in the Libyan town of Zintan; Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a commander in Hifter’s forces, was in the Benghazi area; and Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former head of the Libyan Internal Security Agency, was in Cairo. She said Tuesday that all three remain fugitives.
Bensouda told the council Tuesday that “Gadhafi is a wilful fugitive, actively evading justice both in Libya and before the International Criminal Court,” and that al-Werfalli and Khaled have not been arrested.
Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press