Libya must hand over its former intelligence chief under ousted strongman Moammar Kadafi, the International Criminal Court has ordered. The push to surrender Abdullah Senussi is the latest turn in the tug-of-war over where Kadafi insiders will stand trial for crimes against humanity.
Libya wants its own courts to try Senussi and Seif Islam Kadafi, son of the slain leader, arguing that bringing the two to justice would be a historic step for the country. The Hague tribunal is supposed to be a court of last resort, only handling cases that countries are unwilling or unable to handle themselves.
Attorneys defending Senussi argue he cannot get a fair trial in Libya, where he has been held for months without access to an attorney or his family after Mauritania passed him into Libyan hands.
The court “has ordered an immediate halt to Libya’s unseemly rush to drag [Senussi] to the gallows,” attorney Ben Emmerson said in a statement Thursday. He concluded, “It is time … for the rule of law to replace the rule of the mob that has been baying for blood in Tripoli.”
The Libyan government said in a court document last week that it “does not seek to prevent a secure and privileged visit” to Senussi by his lawyer and contested claims that Libyan courts were not fair.
After months of debate, ICC judges ordered Wednesday that Senussi be surrendered. The judges also insisted that Libyan authorities arrange an attorney visit for Senussi.
Senussi faces charges at the international court as an “indirect perpetrator” of murder and persecution during the beginning of the uprising that toppled Kadafi.
Libyans believe the former intelligence chief was also behind the massacre of roughly 1,200 inmates after a Tripoli prison uprising in 1996. Senussi was also convicted in absentia in France for an airplane bombing over Niger, and has been suspected of links to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
Senussi and his attorneys are not alone in raising concerns about the Libyan justice system: Thousands of people have been detained for more than a year without charges or access to attorneys, many held illegally by armed groups, Human Rights Watch said in a report released last week. Killings of Kadafi loyalists have gone unpunished.
The government has no illusions about the challenges “to turn Libya into a country with the rule of law and respect for human rights,” Libyan justice minister Salah Marghani wrote Wednesday, stating that his ministry was investigating abuses and bringing all places of detention under police control. “We firmly believe that this is achievable.”
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