(New York) - The United Nations Security Council should declare its support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into serious crimes committed in Libya when the ICC prosecutor briefs the council on May 4, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. When the Security Council referred Libya to the ICC, it invited the court's prosecutor to address its members within two months.
"After setting the wheels of justice in motion, the council should back the court in ensuring accountability for any grave abuses in Libya," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "The Security Council must stand by the strong action it took in February and reaffirm the court's role in the fight against impunity."
On February 26, the Security Council adopted resolution 1970 by a vote of 15-0 referring Libya to the ICC. Under the Rome Statute, the ICC's founding treaty, the Security Council can refer a situation in any country to the ICC prosecutor if it determines the situation to be a threat to the maintenance of international peace and security. As a judicial institution, the court's work is distinct from other initiatives currently underway in Libya. The ICC's independence from political pressures is essential to its overall effectiveness and credibility, Human Rights Watch said.
Following the council's referral, the ICC prosecutor announced on March 3 that he would open an investigation into potential crimes against humanity committed in Libya since February 15. The prosecutor has indicated that the focus of his investigation will be the 15-day period following the adoption of resolution 1970, and that he may open a second investigation at a later date. The briefing to the council is expected to provide an overview of the investigative activities of the prosecutor's office to date.
The prosecutor's briefing takes place amidst an increase in diplomatic and military activity around Libya. Recently, several members of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's immediate family were allegedly killed by a NATO air strike in Tripoli. There have also been media accounts that some governments had been seeking an exit strategy for Gaddafi that would offer him a safe haven abroad, possibly shielding him from prosecution.
However, Human Rights Watch research demonstrates that justice should not be abandoned as other objectives are pursued.
"As news of potential serious crimes in Libya continues to emerge, any talk of political settlement needs to take the ICC's unique judicial role into account," said Dicker. "Justice cannot be turned on and off depending on the needs of the moment. The Security Council's unanimous referral of Libya to the ICC sent a clear message that impunity is no longer an option."
The ICC lacks the ability to execute its own requests. Instead, the court must rely on state cooperation to further its investigations, including by facilitating evidence collection and preservation. States parties to the ICC also have a legal obligation to cooperate with the court in assisting with the execution of arrest warrants.