ROTTERDAM// The International Criminal Court will need more information before it can determine whether to prosecute Muammar Qaddafi for crimes against Libyan civilians, a court official said yesterday.
An official at the ICC in the Hague and several legal experts say such cases are complex and a thorough investigation is needed before the court prosecutor can decide whether a charge is warranted.
The ICC is relying on media and other reports from Libya but is not now sending anyone to investigate, said Fadi El Abdallah, a court official. "The prosecutor is at this moment assessing … information from different sources," he said.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's office Monday said that available information suggests Col Qaddafi's forces were attacking civilians. "This could constitute crimes against humanity and must stop. The office will act swiftly and impartially. There will be no impunity for leaders involved in the commission of crimes," the statement said.
The United Nations Security Council on Saturday referred Libya to the ICC and asked the prosecutor to report back within two months.
But the prosecutor faces no deadline to determine whether to actually prosecute, said Mr El Abdallah.
The Security Council also imposed an arms embargo on Libya and levelled sanctions against Mr Qaddafi and his close family and associates.
Libya came under further international pressure yesterday when the UN General Assembly was set to vote on whether to suspend the country's membership on the UN's Human Rights Council. The Council, based in Geneva, last week proposed the suspension. But it faces a major embarrassment over a scheduled vote later this month to adopt a report in which many countries praise Libya's human-rights record.
The European Union is also set to weigh "further steps" against Libya at a summit on March 11, EU diplomats said yesterday. The summit will also examine the EU's response to the broader turmoil in the Arab world. The EU on Monday banned the export of "equipment which might be used for internal repression", to Libya and imposed an asset freeze and travel bans on Col Qaddafi and associates.
"We are trying to respond in real time to the crisis and of course to avoid the civil war that we fear and making contingency plans to respond to the potential flow of refugees," said the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
Calls for Col Qadaffi to step down spread beyond the US and Europe yesterday when Russian officials called Col Qadaffi "a living political corpse", reported Russia's Interfax news agency.
But Russia and several key Nato countries for now oppose military intervention in Libya, including implementation of a no-fly zone. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told journalists that the focus should now be on implementing the UN resolution.
"I think we must avoid becoming agitated," he said.
Libya's referral to the ICC is seen as a major part of the UN resolution.
"At least it shows that if a government uses violence against its own people to suppress what the Security Council calls peaceful demonstrations, that internationally there is less and less tolerance for it," said Nico Schrijver, professor of international law at Leiden University.
He called the referral historic because it was unanimous, which it was not in the case of Sudan's president Omar Bashir, and second, because it mentioned the responsibility to protect, "which lends that concept more legitimacy".
But issuing an indictment may be difficult. The most likely charge, if any, is crimes against humanity. Mr Schrijvers emphasised the importance of intention for such a crime to be proven. But experts say it is not easy to prove intention in such cases.