MUAMMAR al-Gaddafi’s intelligence chief should face a war crimes trial in Libya, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled yesterday.
The decision in the case of Abdullah al-Senussi – who is suspected of complicity in the Lockerbie bombing and has been convicted of another aircraft bombing – endorses Libya’s legal system as fair and functional enough to handle his trial for war crimes allegedly committed during the uprising against Gaddafi two years ago.
The ruling comes just a day after the country’s prime minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped briefly by one of the many militias active in the country.
The former spy chief was Gaddafi’s brother-in-law and part of his inner circle.
He is also wanted in Libya for his alleged role in the 1996 massacre of more than 1,200 people at Abu Salim prison.
Senussi is accused by the ICC and Libyan prosecutors of crimes against humanity for the murder and persecution of protesters in the early days of the uprising that eventually toppled Gaddafi in 2011.
Separate from the ICC case, he has been accused of complicity in blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 and a French airliner over Niger the following year – causing hundreds of deaths.
Under international law, each country has the first right – and the obligation – to try its suspected war criminals. The pretrial chamber found that Libyan authorities are “willing and able” to prosecute Senussi, and therefore he cannot be tried at the ICC.
ICC judges have previously resisted giving up jurisdiction in the cases of Senussi and of Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, both of whom are being held in Libya, saying the country’s legal system simply wasn’t ready.
“This is a shocking decision which we will immediately appeal,” said Senussi’s lawyer, Ben Emmerson.
Mr Emmerson said there is “overwhelming evidence … that the Libyan justice system is close to collapse and that it is incapable of conducting fair trials of any Gaddafi-era officials.”
The ICC judges said they took a number of factors into account in their decision, notably that Senussi is being held by the national government, whereas Seif al-Islam is held by a regional authority. Court spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said yesterday’s decision has no bearing on Islam’s case. However, it raises the question of why Islam could not be tried in Libya too, if forces in the mountain region of Zintan turn him over to national authorities.
Reasons judges cited to show Libya is ready to try Senussi include “the quantity and quality of the evidence” collected by local prosecutors, and the track record of Libyan courts in other prosecutions.
“The spotlight for now is on Libya to make good on its promise to respect Senussi’s rights,” Richard Dicker, of Human Rights Watch, said yesterday.
Senussi was arrested in March 2012 at Mauritania’s international airport, disguised as a Tuareg chieftain in flowing robes and a turban.
He was extradited to Libya later that year.
“The effect of this morning’s decision is to condemn Mr Senussi to face mob justice without even access to a lawyer, and in which the inevitable outcome is the death penalty,” Mr Emmerson said.