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(New York) – Mauritania should promptly surrender Libya’s former intelligence chief Abdullah Sanussi to the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he is wanted for crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today.

Sanussi was arrested Saturday in Mauritania, news agencies have reported. A senior Libyan official confirmed the arrest to Human Rights Watch.

"Sanussi’s arrest is a crucial step for justice given the magnitude of the crimes he is accused of," said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. "Now, to ensure justice, it’s imperative that Mauritania hand him over to the ICC for fair trial."

The brother-in-law of Muammar Gaddafi and long his senior intelligence official, Sanussi is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the government’s crackdown of protests in early 2011. He is also implicated in many serious human rights violations during Gaddafi’s rule, including the June 1996 killing of more than 1,200 prisoners in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison. Prisoners from that time told Human Rights Watch that Sanussi was the government’s chief negotiator, promising them safe treatment prior to the killings. Sanussi was also convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison in France for the 1989 bombing of a passenger jet over Niger.

The ICC investigation into the 2011 crackdown was authorized by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970, adopted unanimously on February 26, 2011.States parties to the ICC have a legal obligation to cooperate with the court. While Mauritania is not a party to the court, the Council resolution urges all states to cooperate with the ICC, including the arrest and surrender of suspects.

“Mauritania should support the Security Council's unanimous action by transferring Sanussi now to The Hague,” Dicker said. "The Security Council made the court’s investigation in Libya possible, and it should also press Mauritania to hand him over to the court."

The ICC judges granted arrest warrants on June 27, 2011, for Sanussi, as well as Muammar Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam. The three were wanted for crimes against humanity for attacks on civilians, including peaceful demonstrators, in Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata, and other locations in Libya. The ICC warrants apply only to events in Libya beginning on February 15, 2011.

The ICC's proceeding against Muammar Gaddafi was terminated following his death on October 20, but anti-Gaddafi forces apprehended Saif al-Islam Gaddafi on November 19 in southern Libya and are holding him in the town of Zintan. Government officials say they will try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in Libya for his role during the government’s 2011 crackdown and prior corruption.

Dozens of other senior Gaddafi-era officials and their relatives are in custody, held either by the official government authorities or militias around the country, the latter having no legal authority to hold detainees. The majority of these detainees have not had access to a lawyer or been brought before a judge.

Human Rights Watch has long called for the militias in Libya to hand all their detainees over to the competent government authorities.

Human Rights Watch has also documented mistreatment in detention in Tripoli and Misrata. Last month, a Libyan diplomat who served as ambassador to France died apparently from torture after he was detained by a Tripoli-based militia from the town of Zintan. Libya’s former prime minister, Abuzaid Dorda, was badly injured in a fall he sustained in October while detained by a militia in Tripoli. Human Rights Watch has also called on the Tunisian authorities to decline ordering the extradition to Libya of Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, the former Libyan prime minister, due to a real risk of torture.

“At this point, we doubt that Libya can provide a fair trial for Abdullah Sanussi,” Dicker said.  “For justice, and for Libyans to understand the tragedies of their past, Mauritania should hand him to the ICC.”

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