10-year-old Maryam Mahmoud al-Hassouni was killed by shrapnel on 5 April 2011 from a mortar which landed in the courtyard of her home in Zawia al-Mahjoub neighbourood of Misrata while she played there. © Amnesty International
International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo today requested arrest warrants for Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the country’s spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi, for Crimes Against Humanity.
In the world of international justice, this request comes at lightning speed: After the UN Security Council (unanimously!) referred the situation to the ICC only days after violence and armed hostilities broke out in Libya in mid-February, the request for arrest warrants comes only three months later.
In a press conference held today, Moreno-Ocampo stated that al-Gaddafi personally ordered attacks against unarmed civilians. His office collected evidence that security forces shot peaceful protesters, that heavy weaponry was used against participants in funerals, and that snipers shot at civilians. According to the ICC prosecutor, these crimes were committed in a systematic and widespread manner and are still ongoing in areas under al-Gaddafi’s control. While the ICC judges will consider the request for arrest warrants, the Office of the Prosecutor will continue to collect evidence, including on potential war crimes committed since armed conflict broke out in Libya.
Evidence of War Crimes in Misratah
Based on our own field research in Misratah and other parts of the country, we believe that violations by al-Gaddafi’s forces point to war crimes. Security forces have also committed widespread, grave violations of human rights, such as the systematic shooting of protesters, which may amount to crimes against humanity. (One of the distinctions between these two crimes is that war crimes can be committed in a single act, while crimes against humanity are systematic and widespread. To learn more, please take a look at our International Justice Handbook, listed below).
Our own research found evidence of unlawful killing of civilians due to indiscriminate attacks, including the use of heavily artillery, rockets and cluster bombs in civilian areas and sniper fire against residents by al-Gaddafi forces. One of the clearest evidence of indiscriminate attacks against civilians that our researchers found was the use of cluster munitions. These are dropped from the air or fired from the ground. The munitions break open in mid-air and release submunitions over the area below. The result is that everyone below is affected, no matter if armed personal or civilians. If the submunitions fail to explode on impact, they effectively become anti-personnel mines. Because cluster munitions are inherently indiscriminate, they should never be used in any circumstances, and in fact they have been banned in over 100 countries. Their use in residential areas, such as in Misratah, is a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
The Human Face
Among all the technical talk about what munitions were used, and what law was violated in Libya, we should be clear that it is civilians that suffer the most in Libya, and that it is families and individuals whose lives are being destroyed. Our researchers have documented numerous cases of killed or injured civilians, and I encourage you to take a look at our most recent report (pdf) from Misratah to learn more about them. One example: In Zawia al-Mahjoub, on the western outskirts of Misratah, 10-year-old Maryam Mahmoud al-Hassouni was killed on 5 April in the courtyard of her home. Her uncle told Amnesty International:
It was about 10.30 am and Maryam was playing in the yard when a shell exploded in the middle of the yard. She was badly injured in the head and died almost immediately.
Strike marks in the courtyard and shrapnel remains indicate that it was a mortar (which, as a non-precision weapon, should never be used in residential areas).
While the international community has acted with unprecedented speed to take steps to ensure justice and accountability for the crimes committed in Libya, we know from previous cases that the enforcement of international justice takes time. The international community must thus remain committed to its first steps and provide full support to both the International Criminal Court and the Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council. This includes states preparation for possible arrests, should the arrest warrants issued by the ICC judges. As prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo stated recently: “Now is the time to start planning on how to implement possible arrest warrants”.
Learn More about International Justice in Libya and Stay Updated:
Check out these background materials:
- First Report of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to the UN Security Council Pursuant to UNSCR 1970 (May 5)
- Amnesty International: Attacks against Misratah residents point to war crimes (Press Release, May 5)
- Amnesty International: Misratah – Under Siege and Under Fire (Report, May 5; pdf)
- Human Rights Watch: Libya: End Indiscriminate Attacks in Western Mountain Towns (May 9)
- Amnesty International Handbook: Campaigning for International Justice in the Aftermath of Crisis (pdf)