THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court's budget has come under pressure after being given Libya's file by the U.N. Security Council, but a contingency fund could help pay for investigations if needed, its president said.
Moving with unprecedented swiftness, the ICC prosecutor started a probe into the killing of civilian protesters in Libya after the Security Council referral in February and is expected to request the issue of arrest warrants next month.
ICC President Sang-Hyun Song said the court's current annual budget of 103.6 million euros ($149 million) was agreed prior to the Libya referral and will put "extra pressure" on court finances in what will already be its busiest year of operations.
"We are now in the process of assessing the financial impact this referral will have and to what extent it may necessitate additional funding," Song told Reuters Thursday.
"We are trying very hard to absorb the cost of the Libya situation within the framework of the existing budget. There is also a contingency fund we would be able to have access to if necessary."
The ICC is conducting three trials, but has opened six official investigations and 11 preliminary examinations, posing an increasing challenge to keep its costs under control.
But speaking on the sidelines of the World Foresight Forum in The Hague, Song said the contingency fund allows the court, if approved by member states, to gradually tap into an extra 7 million euros in funding if required by the prosecutor's office.
Elizabeth Evenson at New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Security Council referral handed the court an opportunity, but also a burden as it had not allocated additional funding.
"I think the real difficulty will come when the regular budget needs to be approved," Evenson said. "It's not just possible to reshuffle resources around anymore because there is demonstrated increase in the court's activities."
She said HRW was concerned about "a breaking point" with the court facing a significant increase in investigative, outreach and witness protection work but unchanged resources.
As of March 31, the court had only received 43 million euros of its 2011 budget and Song said a budget and finance committee was now discussing the 2012 budget ahead of more detailed discussions in the second half of the year.
The office of the prosecutor did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The ICC is the world's first and only permanent war crimes court, set up by the signing of the Rome Statute in 1998, and is funded by contributions from member states -- many of which are cutting their own budgets due to austerity programs.
It has struggled with a lack of state support, with global powers such as the United States, Russia and China refusing to sign up, while many Arab states have also snubbed it.
The ICC's first trial, against accused Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, has also been mired in procedural delays and objections from the defense over evidence disclosure.
But Song said closing arguments are scheduled in August and he expected the trial to be completed this year.
Editing by Mark Heinrich