The International Criminal Court and the Situation in Libya

The Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, following a unanimous vote by the fifteen members of the United Nations Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC, is assessing whether to launch a criminal investigation into events related to the violence in Libya. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo pledged he would act "swiftly and impartially" and called upon those with videotapes, photographs, or other evidence of potential crimes against the civilian population since February 15th to provide the information to his office: Information and Evidence Unit, Office of the Prosecutor, Post Office Box 19519, 2500 CM The Hague, The Netherlands.

Information can be submitted by email to or by fax to 31 70 515 8555.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said, "Information suggests that forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Qadhafi are attacking civilians in Libya. This could constitute crimes against humanity and must stop." He added, "There will be no impunity for leaders involved in the commission of crimes."

The ICC was established by treaty -- the Rome Statute -- in 1998 to help ensure perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community cannot escape responsibility for their actions. The ICC's jurisdiction is complimentary to national criminal jurisdiction and to date 114 countries have signed and ratified the Statute. Notable exceptions include the United States, China, Russia, Israel, India, Libya, and Yemen.

Crimes against humanity are atrocities committed on a widespread or systematic basis against a particular group by or with the consent of the government or other power. They may overlap in some instances with war crimes, but crimes against humanity can occur during periods of conflict or peace. Offenses that may constitute crimes against humanity in the Libya context include murder, severe deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearance of persons, and other inhumane acts.

While the decision to refer the Libyan matter to ICC Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo was supported by many senior officials in the United States and abroad, former Bush administration Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton denounced it calling the ICC "one of the world's most illegitimate multilateral institutions." Bolton complained that the ICC uses an independent counsel type process that often creates "gross miscarriages of justice, such as Patrick Fitzgerald's 2003-07 investigation of how Valerie Plame's CIA employment became public" leading to Scooter Libby, at the time an advisor to Vice-President Dick Cheney, being "pursued into the ground" while others more culpable went unscathed. Bolton suggests detaining Gaddafi and his associates until Libya has recovered sufficiently to deal with them in the Libyan courts: "Immediate logistical difficulties do not justify shifting the moral and political responsibility of dealing with Gadhafi away from his countrymen to remote international bureaucrats."

The Crimes of War Education Project supports the U.N. decision to refer the matter to the ICC. The Project's Executive Director Morris Davis said: "With so many people in so many places feeling empowered and taking to the streets in opposition to autocratic regimes, and with an increasing number of long entrenched leaders feeling their power threatened and facing the temptation to crush opposition through any means, the international community must demonstrate now the consequences of criminal behavior. Even with massive assistance from the United States, it took the Iraqi government two and a half years to charge Saddam Hussein once he was captured, and it was three years before he was convicted in an Iraqi court. The current situation and the likelihood for it to expand require more prompt action. This isn't a question of simply logistical difficulties; it's a question of the international community fulfilling its moral responsibility to stand up for humanity."


The Crimes of War Project is a collaboration of journalists, lawyers and scholars dedicated to raising public awareness of the laws of war and their application to situations of conflict.