Heartbreaking accounts of violence from survivors in Libya underscore the collective obligation to deliver justice — and not “as an abstract idea” — following the Security Council’s referral of the case to the International Criminal Court in 2011, stressed its top prosecutor, who, marking the first visit of his Office to Libya in a decade, briefed the 15-nation organ via videoconference.
“More needs to be done to ensure justice does not solely remain a value or idea, but something felt by the people of Libya,” said Karim Khan, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Describing harrowing visits to sites of torture and execution, including Tarhuna, where victims were kept in metal boxes in conditions amounting to “calculated inhumanity” before being executed, he reported that Libyan forensic experts unearthed as many as 250 bodies from mounds of rubbish, consisting of dead dogs and goats and “every waste product known to mankind”. Following that, he met victims with heartbreaking stories to share, some missing up to 24 members of their families, including a mother whose son was pried from her, never to be seen again.
There was a prevalent fatigue in Libya about justice and accountability, he said, emblematized by the statement of a survivor who told him: “What is justice? We keep hearing about justice; where are the results?” Since 2011, such stories and sentiments have spread far beyond Tarhuna, to every part of Libya, he emphasized, adding: “Justice is not about power or the powerful. It is about those who want the basics — a modicum of justice for their loved ones whose lives mattered the world to them.” Achieving this is not “mission impossible, if we are willing to coalesce around human values; not just the legal norms that spring from those human values,” he stated.
He also detailed progress made by his Office since his last address to the Council in April, including the gathering of a variety of evidentiary material, and greater engagement with Libyan authorities. In September, a Joint Investigation Team, including Italy, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) and others, tackled human trafficking resulting in key individuals being transferred from Ethiopia to Italy and the Netherlands, where allegations of torture and slavery will be investigated by domestic courts. “The ICC is not an apex court; it is a hub,” he stated, adding that work must be done collectively to ensure greater accountability and less space for impunity.
In the ensuing discussion, many delegates welcomed progress made on the file and on ensuring cooperation with Libyan authorities, while some urged pressure to be brought to bear on the latter to promote accountability through addressing armed groups and outstanding arrest warrants. Several speakers voiced concern about the deplorable conditions faced by migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in detention centres, stressing the need for more to be done to investigate and prosecute such crimes.
The delegate of Kenya was among those raising such concerns, reiterating her call on the Prosecutor to provide further reporting on crimes against migrants, which may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. It must be considered how the explicit and implicit national policies of countries claiming to assist in stemming irregular migration may be continuing the indignity visited on migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, she added.
The delegate of the United States, along with others, called on Libyan authorities to do more to ensure that former senior officials of the Qadhafi regime — including Saif al-Islam Qadhafi — face justice, noting that such efforts have been pending for 11 years. He also noted that the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) found reasonable grounds to believe members of the al-Kaniyat militia committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tarhuna. More must be done to address the proliferation and legitimization of armed groups acting as “islands of control” outside of any State authority.
In a similar vein, the representative of Albania, while taking note of encouraging signs, including closer cooperation between UNSMIL and the Office of the Presidency Council of Libya, also underscored the need to achieve concrete cooperation in the interest of justice. In addition, he underlined the need to provide full and secure access to the whole territory, to relevant documentation and to crime scenes, especially when key witnesses are threatened.
The representative of Mexico underlined the importance of addressing the International Criminal Court’s budgetary requirements, stressing that the United Nations must bear the costs of the situations referred to the International Criminal Court by the Security Council. Further, victims must be at the centre of the work of the Office of the Prosecutor and must be provided with care and psychosocial support, he emphasized.
However, the Russian Federation’s delegate observed that the report, which did not show any real developments, was presented to the Council on the eve of the meeting, preventing any analysis or preparation for a substantive discussion. Pointing out that no court had assessed the “speedy fabrication of false accusations against Muammar Qadhafi”, which was used to justify the illegal bombing of Libya by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he called on the Council to consider correcting the mistakes of the past and potentially withdrawing the Libyan file from the International Criminal Court.
The representative of Libya, rounding out the discussion, said that Prosecutor Khan’s visit to his country will strengthen cooperation between the Libyan Public Prosecutor and the International Criminal Court, which complements and does not replace the Libyan judiciary. Outlining progress on the investigation on incidents that took place in Tarhuna, he said the Libyan Public Prosecutor issued arrest warrants against perpetrators of those crimes and was able to arrest a number of them. However, the main challenge is arresting those in hiding or those who fled Libya, he said, calling on Prosecutor Khan to issue arrest warrants against those individuals or anyone supporting them or providing them with shelter.
In addition, he pointed out that the Libyan Public Prosecutor’s Office is following up on cases of criminal acts against migrants, including the incident in Subrata and the deliberate killing of a number of migrants by human traffickers and smugglers. However, he said he was puzzled by the international community’s focus on Libya with respect to those involved in human trafficking, which is an international network that is transnational. Confronting that phenomenon must start with eliminating those networks and their leaders, and imposing sanctions on them, whether in the origin and transit countries in Africa or in destination countries in Europe, without exception.
Also speaking today were the representatives of China, India, the United Kingdom, Norway, Ireland, Gabon, Brazil, France, the United Arab Emirates and Ghana.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 11:40 a.m.