Release of ICC Staff in Libya welcomed by IBAHRI

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) welcomes the release today of four International Criminal Court (ICC) staff members detained in Zintan, Libya, since 7 June 2012. Their detention of 26 days followed a visit by ICC counsel Melinda Taylor with Mr Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi – son of Libya’s deposed and now deceased president, Muammar Gaddafi – indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.

Ms Taylor, sent to Libya to discuss defence issues related to Mr Gaddafi’s arrest warrant at the ICC, was accused by Libya’s authorities of passing documents to Mr Gaddafi that could compromise the country's national security.

Following negotiations with Libyan authorities, ICC President, Judge Sang-Hyun Song, travelled to Zintan for the release of his staff: Ms Helene Assaf, a translator and interpreter; Mr Alexander Khodakov, the External Relations and Cooperation Senior Adviser at the Registry of the ICC; Mr Esteban Peralta Losilla, Chief of the Counsel Support Section at the ICC; and Ms Melinda Taylor, counsel from the Office of Public Counsel for the Defence.

Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association, said, ‘Detaining ICC staff members on an official visit was a violation of the privileges and immunities accorded to ICC staff members under international law. However, we commend both Libya and the ICC in their handling of such a delicate and unprecedented situation, resulting in the freeing of the ICC staff.’

The release of the ICC staff members coincides with the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Court, founded with the mandate to fight impunity for the gravest international crimes. In relation to this milestone, Dr Ellis commented, ‘The formation of the ICC constitutes an unprecedented advancement in international law and is an invaluable tool for ensuring accountability for the most egregious international crimes. The progress made in the first ten years of the ICC’s  existence builds on the legacy of all international criminal tribunals since the Nuremberg Trials and furthers the continued struggle to end the inequity of crimes committed with impunity.

To date the Court has successfully initiated 15 cases in seven situations against high-level government officials

Editor’s notes

  • Global support for the ICC continues to grow, with Guatemala becoming the 121st State Party to the Rome Statute since 1 July 2002.
  • The ICC’s continued legitimacy hinges on its ability to promote the highest fair trial standards by securing the rights of the accused. States must support the Court in this effort, both financially and diplomatically, and must not violate the Court’s independent status.
  • The ICC has a new Prosecutor, Ms Fatou Bensouda. Renewed efforts of the Office of the Prosecutor to observe due process protections and fair trial guarantees are anticipated.
  • On 14 March 2012 the guilty judgement delivered in the Thomas Lubanga trialmarked the completion of the ICC’s first trial cycle.

Background on the ICC

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was founded pursuant to the Rome Statute, which came into force on 1 July 2002 after it was ratified by 60 states. The Court resides in The Hague, the Netherlands, and its jurisdiction extends to individuals who are national of a state party, crimes committed on the territory of a state party as well as situations referred by the United Nations Security Council. The Court’s mandate covers the gravest international crimes, presently genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Background on the ICC Registry mission to Libya and subsequent ICC staff detention

In early 2011, following anti-regime protests in Libya and reports of violent suppression by the Libyan government, the UN Security Council unanimously approved resolution 1970, referring the situation in Libya to the ICC. The Security Council invoked its power to address threats to peace found in Chapter VII of the UN Charter, deciding that Libya ‘shall cooperate fully’ with the ICC investigation. On 3 March 2011 the ICC Prosecutor opened a formal investigation into the situation of Libya and on 27 June 2011, ICC Pre Trial Chamber I issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and former head of intelligence Abdullaj al-Sanussi for crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Libya since 15 February 2011.

The ICC Office of Public Council for the Defence (OPCD) was formally appointed by the ICC Pre Trial Chamber as interim defence counsel for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi on 17 April 2012, following a signed declaration from the suspect. On 27 April 2012 the Pre Trial Chamber requested that Libyan authorities grant OPCD privileged access to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in order to prepare his defence.

On 6 June 2012 an ICC delegation visited Mr Gaddafi in Libya to discuss issues related to his defence. Following the meeting the delegation was detained by fighters from the Zintan brigade, a group that fought against the former regime and currently maintains custody of Mr Gaddafi. Libyan authorities alleged that OPCD lawyer Melinda Taylor had compromised Libyan national security by handing to Mr Gaddafi coded documents unrelated to the ICC proceedings, and carrying ‘spying devices’ concealed in a pen and a watch.

On 15 June 2012 the UN Security Council affirmed the obligation of Libya to cooperate with resolution 1970 and urged Libyan authorities to work towards securing the staff members’ release. The ICC promised a full investigation into any misconduct, following the release of the four staff members.

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