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Gaddafi’s son appears in Libyan court, ICC calls for handover ignored

Published time: September 19, 2013 11:14
Edited time: September 19, 2013 19:35

Seif al-Islam, son of Libya's late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, looks on in the accused cell as he stands trial for illegally trying to communicate with the outside world in June last year, on May 2, 2013 in Libya's northwestern town of Zintan. (AFP Photo)

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Colonel Gaddafi’s son has appeared in court in Libya’s Zintan, while on the same day he was expected at a pre-trial session in Tripoli - all amid ICC calls to hand the man over to the Hague.

Wanted by three courts, Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam appeared on Thursday at a hearing in Zintan, west of the capital Tripoli, where he is being kept in custody, facing charges of trying to escape from the prison and insulting the Libyan flag. 

The Zintan trial was eventually adjourned until December. 

By the end of the day, reports emerged that the militia-run prison in Zintan failed to handover Saif al-Islam to a court hearing in Tripoli. The court in Tripoli is seeking explanation from the prison authorities for this, according to AP. Officials in the capital believe privately that the Zintan militia wants to hold onto Gaddafi's son as leverage to extract political concessions from the central government.

On the other hand, former rebel commanders in Zintan claim that if they send Saif al-Islam to Tripoli “remnants” of the Gaddafi regime may try and find him innocent.

Meanwhile, Saif himself told the court in the north western Libya that he has no wish to be tried in Tripoli.

“Zintan is part of Libya and I don't have the desire to move to anywhere else,”  he declared as quoted by Reuters, although some suspected he may have said this under duress.

The proceedings in the capital were going to be held behind closed doors and were rather "an investigation phase - not a court session," according to Prosecutor General Abdel-Qader Radwan.

The Tripoli court charges Gaddafi’s son with crimes allegedly committed during Libya's 2011 uprising. Saif al-Islam is to face trial together with more than 30 former regime officials, including Abdulla al-Senussi, the ex-chief of the country’s intelligence.

Senussi appeared in court in Tripoli Thursday for a pre-trial hearing amid heavy security including armored cars and trucks equiped with anti-aircraft guns. 

Tripoli’s right to try Gaddafi and Senussi has been questioned by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which in July ruled that both should be extradited to the Hague because of fears they might not get a fair trial at home. However, Libya has repeatedly defied the ruling. 

The country’s officials cite the will of the Libyan people as the reason behind their not wanting any international interference in the case.

Saif Gaddafi, he is a Libyan. All the crimes and charges against him are committed in Libya,” Aleddin Al-Mgariaf, a member of the Libyan General National Congress told RT. “Every Libyan believes that he should be tried in Libya. None of the crimes he’s been charged with were committed outside Libya, so there’s no reason whatsoever to try him outside Libya and that’s the demand of all Libyans.” 

Handout video grab taken from footage shot by a member of Libyan security forces shows Abdullah al-Senussi, a former spy of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, arriving at the high security prison facility in Tripoli, on September 5, 2012. (AFP/HO)

The country’s authorities insist the trial will be fair, but human rights groups as well as many in the international community fear that settling old scores with the Gaddafi family is inevitable in a domestic trial.

Amnesty International said on Wednesday that even though it understood the Libyan authorities’ desire to have a trial of its own, it still urged those in power in Tripoli to “immediately” hand the two major suspects over to The Hague.  

Libya’s justice system is in desperate need of an overhaul. There are serious concerns about the authorities’ ability to ensure fair trials compounded by the precarious security situation in the country,” says an official statement by Hassiba Hadj Sahrahoui, the group’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Before they came to power, the Libyan rebels themselves were calling for the UN to order the ICC to investigate the alleged crimes by the Gaddafi family and put them on trial in The Hague. Once in power, they however backed down on their own initiative.

The ICC might now file a complaint to the UN Security Council, if Libya continues to ignore the Court’s request.

Libya has a legal obligation to surrender Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi to the ICC pursuant to UNSC resolution 1970 (2011) which referred the situation in Libya to the ICC,” the Court’s Public Affairs Unit told RT.  

Saif al-Islam's lawyer in the ICC, John Jones believes the Lybian trial will most likely end in his defendant being executed.

If he is delivered to The Hague, to the ICC he may well stand a good chance of being acquitted and being freed because you can have a fair trial before an international court. You can’t have a fair trial in the circumstances when there’s an anti-Gaddafi witch hunt on in the country,” Jones told RT’s Worlds Apart host Oksana Boyko.  

A general view shows the courtroom during the trial of Seif al-Islam (unseen), son of Libya's late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, for illegally trying to communicate with the outside world in June last year, on May 2, 2013 in Libya's northwestern town of Zintan. (AFP Photo)

The ICC actually issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam simultaneously with the one for his farther, while the latter was still alive back in 2011. The Court cited evidence of crimes against humanity, committed against political opponents.

The war in Libya ended with the brutal death of Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of rebels in October 2011. A year later, Human Rights Watch called for an investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the execution. However, no investigation or trial into that killing has been carried out.

The ICC then started informal talks with Saif Al-Islam in October 2011, urging him to surrender himself to The Hague amid fears he would share the fate of his father. However, Saif was detained by fighters from Zintan on the southern Libyan desert while trying to leave the country, in November.

Shortly afterwards the government announced he would go on trial for war crimes, in Tripoli, rejecting the ICC's calls for his handover, saying it had no jurisdiction.

In June 2012, four delegates from the Court were detained in Libya for a month after attempting to get documents to Saif Al-Islam. They were accused of "conspiring against the state".

In May this year, Libya sought the ICC's approval for its domestic trial of Gaddaffi's son, but had its request rejected.