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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

ICC warns Libya of investigations into war crimes

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court warned the risk of a return 'to widespread conflict' in the country was very real

Mahmoud Al Werfalli is seen here speaking in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on January 26, 2017. Abdullah Doma / AFP
Mahmoud Al Werfalli is seen here speaking in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on January 26, 2017. Abdullah Doma / AFP

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has warned that investigations of all sides in Libya's civil war may be launched, after an arrest warrant for a Libyan National Army commander was issued over the alleged execution of dozens of prisoners.

Mahmoud Al Werfalli, a commander in the LNA’s Al Saiqa brigade, has been accused of seven incidents of prisoner execution involving 33 people.

The ICC arrest warrant, issued on Tuesday, said Mr Al Werfalli “is alleged to have directly committed and to have ordered the commission of murder as a war crime”.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she will not hesitate to investigate more complaints of human rights violations in the chaotic country.

“I have also consistently stated that such crimes cannot be tolerated and that I, along with my office, remain firmly committed to the fight against impunity in Libya and will not hesitate to bring new cases,” she said on Tuesday.

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Ms Bensouda called on Libyan authorities to ensure Mr Al Werfalli is handed over to the court in The Hague, the Netherlands.

The LNA — commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar — controls the eastern part of the country but has been fighting against militias aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord and other groups for control of central and southern Libya. The allegations against Mr Al Werfalli relate to the period following the army's battle against militias in Benghazi earlier this year.

Benghazi, on Libya’s north-east coast, fell to LNA forces on July 7 when it defeated a pocket of militias of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council.

The ICC said Mr Al Werfalli "appears to be directly responsible" for the killing of 33 people in Benghazi or surrounding areas "either by personally killing them or by ordering their execution”.

The seven alleged incidents took place between June 3, 2016 and July 17, 2017, the warrant states.

Videos allegedly showing some of the incidents described in the warrant were broadcast on Libyan social media in early July.

These are not the only incidents in Libya’s chaotic civil war to have triggered calls for war crime prosecutions in recent months.

On May 21, Human Rights Watch reported that forces aligned with the UN-backed GNA executed at least 30 captured LNA soldiers at Brak El Shati airbase in southern Libya on May 18.

“The Government of National Accord should act on its promise to investigate allegations that its troops executed opposing forces who had already been rounded up,” Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch, said at the time.

In late May, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was alarmed “by the high number of fatalities [at Brak El Shati] as well as reports of summary executions of civilians, which, if confirmed, may constitute war crimes”, his spokesman said.

Libyan authorities have responded to recent war crimes allegations. In July, the LNA, which is controlled by the elected House of Representatives parliament, said it was investigating incidents related to Mr Al Werfalli.

On May 20, the GNA announced it was investigating the Brak El Shati incidents and had suspended its defence minister and the commander of the battalion responsible for the attack.

Ms Bensouda expressed determination to investigate Libyan war crimes at a meeting with the UN Security Council on May 9, saying the risk of a return “to widespread conflict” in the country was very real.

“The International Criminal Court now, more than ever, has an important role to play in Libya," she said. "I am convinced that timely and concrete action can make a tangible difference to Libyan lives.”