TRIPOLI/THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Libya said on Monday that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi would face trial at home, threatening a showdown with the International Criminal Court which may decide to prosecute the son of Libya’s former dictator in The Hague.
Minister of Justice Ali Humaida Ashour told Reuters that its application, submitted to the ICC last Friday, to try Gaddafi had been accepted “so the trial will be in Libya under Libyan law.”
However, a spokesman for the war crimes court in The Netherlands said it had yet to decide whether it would put Saif al-Islam on trial there, after charging him in June with crimes against humanity over the killing of civilian protesters.
Ashour repeated his assertion when told of the ICC’s comments.
The international court was given jurisdiction over the case after the United Nations Security Council referred Libya to the ICC in February in the wake of the uprising that eventually toppled his father, Muammar Gaddafi, in August.
Libya does have the right to put Saif al-Islam on trial under international law, but only if the ICC agrees it is able to mount a fair trial, something Libya’s prime minister on Saturday assured it would do.
Ashour also brushed away concerns, expressed by rights group Human Rights Watch, that he had no access to legal representation. “Any defendant has the right to have a lawyer during interrogation,” the justice minister said.
“The trial will be in public and observers will have the right to attend court. The date of trial has not been set yet, since Saif is still being questioned,” he said.
The powerful Zintan militia, who captured Saif al-Islam in the southern desert last November, continue to hold him in an undisclosed location, however Ashour insisted that he was under the control of Libya’s public prosecutor.
If tried in Libya on charges of homicide, rape and mismanagement of public funds, the former leader’s most prominent son could face the death penalty. In The Hague he would live in a detention center branded “The Hague Hilton” by its critics, with no risk of execution.
The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said in November that he was happy for Libya to hold the trial, even though he had no guarantee that it would be fair.
An ICC spokesman said it had received information from Libya Monday - its deadline for details on Saif al-Islam, including his mental and physical health - but added the dossier’s details were confidential.
Reporting by Ali Shuaib in Tripoli and Sara Webb in The Hague; writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Ben Harding