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Justice must prevail over alleged Libya war crimes, ICC Prosecutor tells Security Council

Outlining a new four-pronged investigation strategy to the Security Council on Thursday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) pledged his commitment to delivering justice against crimes committed in Libya.

This situation cannot be a never-ending story”, said Karim Khan, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  “Justice delayed may not always be justice denied, but justice that can still be arrived at.”

In his key prosecutorial role for under a year, Mr. Khan is having to reckon with multiple alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity, and war crimes, together with three unexecuted warrants of arrest, amid a politically divided nation that continues to suffer from widespread impunity, stemming from the overthrow of long-term ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.

The internationally-recognized Government in Tripoli, is still at odds with a rival administration and parliamentary authority in the east, while a “deepening crackdown” on civil society is having a “chilling effect on human rights defenders”, according to the UN rights office, OHCHR, in a report last month.

New impetus

Presenting the 23rd report on the Libyan file, Mr. Khan said survivors and the families of victims are waiting for justice, and the report contains benchmarks for the first time to help move cases forward. 

“Our new approach prioritises the voices of survivors”, he said. “To do so we must move closer to them. We cannot conduct investigations, we cannot build trust, while working at arms-length from those affected”

He said the first pillar of the new approach is to prioritise the referrals made by the Council, by allocating additional resources and focusing on enhancing financial investigation, together with increasing capacity in investigating sexual and gender-based crimes.

To accelerate investigations, his team is also harnessing the power of new technology, including artificial intelligence and machine learning to support the transcription and translation of Arabic language documentary, video and audio files.

The second is a commitment to empower witnesses and survivors to participate in the Office’s work.  The Hague, where the Court is based, is far from Libya. It is not possible to establish meaningful relationships with victims, by engaging at arms’ length. It is vital to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the affected communities, he told ambassadors.

More on-site investigation

We need to be more on the ground,” he said, adding that the Office is establishing an enhanced field presence.

The third is to strengthen engagement with Libyan authorities, focusing on supporting national accountability efforts based on the principle of complementarity.

Where national authorities can take forward genuine proceedings, his Office should be there to support, he said.

Focus on justice

But, if Libyan authorities appear unable to carry out investigations or prosecutions of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court, his Office will continue to do its work. He said he will visit Libya in the coming reporting period to deepen the Court’s relationships with the Libyan authorities. 

The fourth new approach, he said, was to increase avenues for accountability by enhancing cooperation with third States, international and regional organisations.

He said he does not want his Office to be only a recipient of cooperation from relevant national authorities, but a positive contributor to national accountability processes. This must be “a two-way street”, the ICC Prosecutor urged.


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