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Q+A: How will the world's war crimes court act on Libya?

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council has imposed sanctions on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and referred Libya’s crackdown on anti-government demonstrators to the International Criminal Court.

Here are some questions and answers regarding the powers and procedures of the court, or ICC, based in The Hague.


The ICC is the world’s first permanent war crimes court. It was set up in 1998 by the Rome Statute with a mandate to investigate four grave crimes, namely state aggression, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of “states parties” -- countries which have signed up to the court’s jurisdiction -- or by nationals of states parties.

In addition, the court has jurisdiction over situations in any state where the situation is referred to it by the U.N. Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.


Libya is not a signatory to the ICC and as such the court does not automatically have jurisdiction in Libya.

However, the ICC can investigate alleged crimes committed in Libya if Libyan authorities, possibly successors to Gaddafi’s administration, accept the court’s jurisdiction or if the U.N. Security Council asks the ICC prosecutor to take up the case.

This kind of referral has happened once before, in March 2005, following the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The court has since indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

On Saturday, the Security Council did refer the events in Libya since February 15 to the ICC.


When the office of the prosecutor receives the Security Council referral, the Rome statute requires that prosecutors carry out a preliminary examination of the available information to see whether there is reasonable basis to proceed with a full-fledged investigation.

To carry out this analysis, the prosecutor may seek information from states, organs of the U.N., intergovernmental or non-governmental organizations, or other reliable sources.

The prosecutor may then decide to open an investigation based on several conditions, including whether a crime within the jurisdiction of the court has been or is being committed, whether the crimes are grave enough, and whether national proceedings are genuinely being carried out.

As a court of last resort, the ICC’s task is to try those most responsible for violence, but it will only act if there are no proceedings taking place at a national level.


In its resolution on Libya on Saturday the U.N Security Council invited the ICC prosecutor to address the council within two months of the adoption of the resolution and every six months thereafter to report on actions taken.

Were Gaddafi to fall and a new government cooperative with the ICC to come into place, the investigation and possible prosecution of individuals could become easier.

Referrals to the ICC can be canceled. Under the Rome Statute, the U.N Security Council can freeze investigations or prosecution proceedings for rolling periods of 12 months by making such a request to the ICC.

Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block and Greg Roumeliotis; editing by Alastair Macdonald