A WAR crimes prosecutor sought an arrest warrant for Muammar Gaddafi yesterday, accusing him of killing protesters against his 41-year rule.
International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also called for the arrest of Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam and his spy chief brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi.
Judges must now decide if there is enough evidence to issue warrants.
In the uprising that swept across the country, civilians were attacked at home, protests were suppressed using live ammunition, heavy artillery was used against funeral processions and snipers deployed to kill people leaving mosques after prayers, the prosecutor said.
“We have strong evidence” Moreno-Ocampo said. “We are almost ready for trial... Gaddafi ruled Libya through fear and Libyans are losing that fear now.”
The prosecutor’s office received calls from senior officials in the Gaddafi government in the past week to provide information. Prosecutors spoke with eyewitnesses to attacks and assessed evidence from 1,200 documents, videos and photos.
Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict in the oil-producing North African state, the bloodiest of the Arab spring revolts in the Middle East.
NATO, which has been hitting targets in Libya for nearly two months, appeared to step up its bombing campaign yesterday with strikes in several towns and cities including Tripoli.
Libyan officials have denied killing civilians, claiming they were forced to take action against criminal armed gangs and al-Qaida militants. They say a NATO bombing campaign is an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya’s oil.
Moreno-Ocampo said persecution was still taking place in areas under Gaddafi control with forces arresting, imprisoning and torturing alleged dissidents. Some people had disappeared.
Prosecutors are also investigating reports of mass rapes, war crimes committed by different parties and attacks against sub-Saharan Africans wrongly seen as mercenaries once the Libyan situation developed into an armed conflict.
Moreno-Ocampo signalled his action earlier this month when he said he would seek three arrests for the “pre-determined” killing of protesters in Libya after the UN Security Council referred the violence to the Hague-based court in February.
Libyan officials have already denounced the ICC prosecutor’s action, saying the court is a creation of the West for prosecuting African leaders. Rebels welcomed the prosecutor’s move.
“We have been impatiently waiting for such a decision. It is an important decision,” a rebel spokesman in the besieged city of Misrata said. “Gaddafi hasn’t stopped killing our brothers in all areas across Libya.”
Libya is not a member of the ICC, but Moreno-Ocampo said Libyan authorities had responsibility to make arrests, which are the best way to protect civilians.
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.
“The request for these warrants is a reminder to all in Gaddafi’s regime that crimes will not go unpunished and the reach of international justice will be long,” British foreign secretary William Hague said.
Meanwhile, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said the United Nations was working on the removal of Gaddafi to exile to make way for a new government.
He said: “If we talk about it now, we’ll burn this possibility. We’re obviously working with the United Nations on finding exactly this way out.”
Three months after a revolt began against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule, fighting between rebels and government forces on several fronts has come to a near-standstill and Gaddafi is refusing to bow to efforts to force him from power.
An inconclusive outcome to the civil war is likely to limit Libyan oil exports, keeping world prices high, and drive thousands more migrants to risk death trying to flee.
Middle East analyst David Hartwell said: “I think if an agreement doesn’t begin with Gaddafi and his immediate family leaving office it isn’t going to fly with the opposition or with NATO.
“The ICC warrant today also makes things more complicated.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved