ICC prosecutor seeks 3 arrest warrants on Libya

UNITED NATIONS Wed May 4, 2011 4:54pm EDT

International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo speaks during an exclusive interview with Reuters in the Hague April 5, 2011. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo speaks during an exclusive interview with Reuters in the Hague April 5, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jerry Lampen

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court prosecutor said on Wednesday he will request arrest warrants for the killing of pro-democracy demonstrators in Libya, and U.N. envoys said one target could be Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

At the same time, Russian and South African U.N. envoys sharply criticized the NATO-led operations to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone, and suggested the ICC should not limit its investigation to Gaddafi's government.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, addressing the U.N. Security Council, said he will request three arrest warrants within weeks for alleged crimes against humanity in Libya.

Moreno-Ocampo is investigating Gaddafi, some of his sons and aides over what he called a "predetermined plan" to attack protesters, after the U.N. Security Council referred the Libyan violence to the ICC in February.

"Crimes against humanity have been and continue to be committed in Libya, attacking unarmed civilians -- including killings and persecutions in many cities across Libya," Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement.

He urged states to be ready to make arrests should an ICC judges issue the warrants, stressing "now is the time to start planning on how to implement possible arrest warrants."

Moreno-Ocampo gave no details on whose arrest he would seek. But several U.N. diplomats and independent human rights experts said Moreno-Ocampo, whose probe of alleged genocide in Sudan's Darfur region led to the indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, might want Gaddafi's arrest.

"We believe it is possible that Gaddafi could be included among the requested arrest warrants," said a spokeswoman in The Hague for the International Federation of Human Rights.

ENFORCING ARREST WARRANTS

Moreno-Ocampo said his request for warrants would be based on "strong evidence," which he said would include photographs, video footage and the testimony of government insiders.

The ICC has no police force and relies on member states to enforce arrests. Despite NATO bombing operations intended to protect civilians, Libya has been plunged into civil war, seriously complicating efforts to arrest ICC suspects.

Libya is not an ICC member state and is therefore not obligated to arrest the court's suspects. Security Council powers the United States, Russia and China are not ICC members either, but voted in favor of referring Libya to the ICC.

The issue of enforcing ICC warrants is expected to come up at a meeting of a broad coalition of nations aligned against Gaddafi in Rome on Thursday, U.N. envoys told Reuters.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized the NATO-led airstrikes and urged members of the coalition to adhere strictly to Security Council resolution 1973, which authorized "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.

Churkin said Moscow was "deeply alarmed" by the growing number of civilian casualties in Libya. He referred to the recent bombings in Tripoli, one of which killed Gaddafi's son.

"Going beyond the mandate of 1973 in any way, and any disproportionate use of force, is unacceptable," he said.

South African Deputy Ambassador Doctor Mashabane suggested NATO should not be immune from an ICC investigation.

"It is our sincere hope in considering the evidence, the office of the prosecutor will consider any actions that may have been committed in the purported implementation of resolution 1973," he told the council.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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