‘Cause for Optimism’ in Delivering Justice to Libyan People, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Tells Security Council, Citing Progress in Past Six Months
Thanks to dynamic investigations combined with a targeted approach, over the past six months the International Criminal Court has made significant progress in prosecuting alleged crimes against humanity committed in Libya, its chief prosecutor told the Security Council today.
“There is a cause for optimism” to finally deliver on the hopes and legitimate expectations of survivors in Libya, said Karim Khan. Outlining milestones towards ensuring accountability for the most serious crimes committed over the past 12 years, he said the Libya Unified Team in his Office has carried out 20 missions, collecting over 500 items of evidence, including video and audio material, forensic information and satellite imagery; filed multiple new arrest warrant applications related to key lines of inquiry; and through a new evidence management system it is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to expedite investigative activities.
Moreover, the Team has significantly strengthened its cooperation with the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, which has directly supported the identification of additional witnesses. In the coming weeks, his Office will be conducting a further mission to Libya to engage with national authorities, including to discuss the potential establishment of a country office in Tripoli. “When we are working with the people affected and with the national authorities, justice becomes something more tangible, it becomes less distant and less theoretical and that is what is needed at the moment,” he said.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members welcomed progress documented in the Prosecutor’s most recent report — including the increased engagement with witnesses and survivors, collection of testimonial evidence and issuance of arrest warrants — and expressed support for the creation of a field office in Tripoli. Underscoring the need to investigate and prosecute all serious crimes committed in Libya since 2011 — including those committed by Da’esh — many expressed concern about forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and inhumane conditions in detention centres. Meanwhile, some speakers cited external interference as a major cause of the protracted crisis in Libya, calling for respect of the principle of Libyan ownership and stressing that the Court must strictly follow the principle of complementarity.
The representative of Gabon encouraged the Prosecutor to continue working closely with Libyan authorities while involving international and regional actors to a greater degree. Further, dialogue with victims must be strengthened and an approach that promotes the establishment of truth, justice and reparations must be prioritized. On the Court’s investigative activities, he drew attention to the evidence management platform using artificial intelligence and machine learning, noting that it will improve the quality and quantity of databases.
In a similar vein, the speaker for the United Arab Emirates called for continued international cooperation in dismantling the networks of transnational organized crime, including in countries of origin, destination and transit. Noting that compliance with the principle of complementarity under the Rome Statute requires respect for the views and positions of the State concerned, he urged strengthened cooperation with relevant national authorities in Libya by taking their concerns and needs into consideration.
The representative of the United States commended progress on Court discussions with Libyan authorities to enhance the long-term presence of Court staff, including by opening a liaison office in Libya. With regard to the Court’s collaboration with the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, he cited the increased contact with victims and civil society as crucial to the delivery of justice for victims. However, he called on the Libyan authorities to do more to support and advance accountability efforts and enhance cooperation with the Court.
Offering a contrasting perspective, the representative of the Russian Federation said the “puppet Court” — “a highly politicized institution that has nothing to do with rendering justice” — has become a fully-fledged participant of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s aggression against Libya. The crusade of the United States-led coalition against this formally flourishing country resulted in complete destruction of its statehood, the prolonging of Libya’s civil war and the loss of lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Libyans. “This is a genuine catastrophe, and the International Criminal Court is directly connected to it,” she asserted, adding that its justice has “an on-and-off switch”.
Rounding up the discussion, the representative of Libya underscored that his country’s cooperation with the Court is based on the principle of complementarity and the body is not an alternative to the Libyan judiciary. On the mass graves uncovered in Tarhuna, he said the Libyan prosecution office is working scrupulously to identify those bodies and find the perpetrators. He called on the Court Prosecutor to issue arrest warrants for them and assist the Libyan authorities in addressing those who refuse to extradite them. Turning to the current migrant situation, he said it is not detached from foreign interference, and the responsibility for crimes against migrants should not be laid at the door of only his country.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:55 a.m.
Point of Order
MARIA ZABOLATSKAYA (Russian Federation) expressed a reservation about the presence of the “so-called Prosecutor of the so-called Court”. Her delegation does not understand why he is invited to the Security council, she said, adding that the International Criminal Court has become a puppet of the Western countries. His presence in the Chamber is pointless and insulting, she said.
KARIM KHAN, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, recalled a renewed plan for action — set out in his report last year — through which it would be possible to finally deliver on the hopes and legitimate expectations of survivors in Libya. Over the past six months, significant progress has been made due to more dynamic investigations combined with a targeted approach. “There is a cause for optimism,” he said, noting the Libya Unified Team in his Office undertook over 20 missions, collecting over 500 items of evidence, including video and audio material, forensic information and satellite imagery. Moreover, a wide range of witness interviews were conducted. He underscored that the Court is working under the principle of complementarity with the Libyan national authorities, as an exercise of their sovereignty and their primary responsibility; also, the Court has given evidence to six national authorities to pursue justice in their own courts.
His Office is bringing its work closer to the people of Libya, he said, noting that in November 2022, he conducted the first official visit of the Court’s Prosecutor to the country in over 10 years, meeting with Libyan authorities, affected communities, civil society and victims. On deepening partnerships with international actors, he said the Team significantly strengthened its cooperation with the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, which has directly supported the identification of additional witnesses relevant to its investigations. Effective collaboration with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) was also critical in supporting his visit to Libya last year.
Over the reporting period, the Libya Team has transitioned its work to “Relativity”, a new evidence management system which allows it to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to accelerate investigative and analytical activities. Moreover, his Office had filed multiple new arrest warrant applications related to key lines of inquiry, ahead of the schedule set out in the Situation Roadmap. In addition to four warrants in Libya that are demonstrable evidence of renewed activity, he applied for two additional warrants. He emphasized that the issuance of arrest warrants is not an end in itself as such warrants do not deliver justice for those survivors he has met from across Libya. However, this step demonstrates that the Office is moving with purpose, in partnership with affected communities, towards a common goal of delivering accountability for the most serious of crimes.
In this regard, he recalled the promise of Nuremberg in which all permanent members of the Council joined in one voice that “there should be never again a time in which human rights are trampled so egregiously in different parts of the world”. He highlighted the need to work more closely with the independent judicial authorities of Member States as “everybody has a stake in justice”. Recalling his visits to Libya and Sudan, he shared the concerns of victims who perceive the United Nations as “all talk” due to a lack of change in their lives. Despite the promise of justice and the prayer of “never again”, they are still in refugee camps, living in fear.
However, he continued, there were significant milestones in the last reporting period. In Italy and the Netherlands, drawing on support from his Office and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), several key suspects in human trafficking are being investigated and prosecuted. On 1 January 2023, a 39-year-old Eritrean man, a key suspect with respect to crimes against migrants, was arrested in Sudan in an international police operation led by the United Arab Emirates. The Netherlands, a member of the Joint Team, issued an arrest warrant for the suspect, drawing on material support and assistance of the Office. “This is an example of humanity coming together,” he asserted. Moreover, his engagement with the Office of the Attorney General, the Military Prosecutor and the Minister of Justice has allowed his Office to identify several areas, including in the field of forensics and identification of remains, where it can potentially provide tangible assistance to Libyan authorities.
In the coming weeks, his Office will be conducting a further mission to Libya to engage with national authorities, including with respect to the potential establishment of a country office in Tripoli. “When we are working with the people affected and with the national authorities, justice becomes something more tangible, it becomes less distant and less theoretical and that is what is needed at the moment,” he said. In this context, he highlighted the importance of the support provided by States in the past year, in addition to his Office’s regular budget. “We have to feel this sense of urgency, as if these are our children, our family members who are suffering,” he said, stressing the need to pause for a moment the political divisions and unite on the principle of humanity and justice. The contribution of extrabudgetary funds to his Office to support the introduction of a new advanced technological system is having a tangible impact for the Libya Team. Already, it is implementing tools through which video and audio evidence relevant to this situation will be automatically transcribed and translated, allowing its investigators and analysts to more easily identify probative information and evidence.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) said his country proudly supports the Court by providing both human and financial resources. Noting the ongoing cooperation by Libyan authorities, as well as of the Court’s increased engagement with victims and civil society, he stressed that strengthening cooperation with these actors will not only help investigations but also contribute to gaining public support and achieving long-lasting reconciliation in the region. It is unfortunate that there has not been major progress in the investigation into the 2011 violence, he said, adding that his delegation looks forward to seeing the Court expedite this process. Recalling the Council’s unanimous decision to refer the situation in Libya to the Court, he emphasized that: “Adopting a resolution was not a goal, but rather a starting point. Our job should not be just hearing from the Prosecutor every six months and reporting back to capitals.” The Council is responsible for ensuring the full implementation of its own resolutions, he added, urging the Council to let the Court fulfil its mandate.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) welcomed the International Criminal Court's progress in investigating and delivering justice for the Libyan people. Noting the concrete outcomes of the investigation, including the issuance of new arrest warrants, he thanked the Prosecutor’s Office for the renewed effort and the Government of National Unity in Libya for facilitating the first official visit of a Court Prosecutor in over 10 years. Further support from the Libyan authorities is critical for the successful delivery of the investigation, he said, welcoming the increased engagement with witnesses and survivors, and the collection of testimonial evidence. Emphasizing the importance of transitional justice for long-term security and stability in Libya, he urged all parties to work together to safeguard human rights and ensure justice can be delivered and underscored his support for the Court.
MARK A. SIMONOFF (United States), noting progress in the past six months documented in the Prosecutor’s most recent report, he welcomed the strategic approach by the Prosecutor for renewed action in Libya’s situation. Voicing concern about the fate of migrants, including women and children, who continue to be subjected to abuse, he urged Libyan authorities to take credible measures to dismantle the trafficking and smuggling routes. He is encouraged by progress on Court discussions with Libyan authorities to enhance the long-term presence of Court staff, including by opening a liaison office in Libya. However, more needs to be done, he emphasized, calling on the Libyan authorities to do more to support and advance accountability efforts and enhance cooperation with the Court. Noting the Court’s collaboration with the Human Rights Council’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, he welcomed the increased contact with victims and civil society in the country as crucial to the delivery of justice for victims.
SOLOMON KORBIEH (Ghana) expressed support for the Prosecutor’s efforts, particularly in establishing an enhanced dialogue with Libyan authorities to build their capacities. Welcoming positive results from this renewed approach, including the arrest and prosecution of key suspects connected to crimes against migrants in Libya, he also noted the strengthening of cooperation between the Office and the competent Libyan authorities and the use of Relativity, a new evidence management system using artificial intelligence and machine learning, to modernize and enhance investigative and analytical capabilities. Commending the Office’s efforts to empower victims, witnesses, and affected communities, he said the international community must provide effective psychological and rehabilitative assistance to victims across Libya. Calling on Libyan authorities to respect the human rights of migrants, he encouraged the Prosecutor’s Office to continue its proactive cooperation with national authorities and regional partners.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) commended the tangible progress made in the revitalization of investigations, issuance of arrest warrants and collection of case evidence. However, the protection of witnesses and victims of horrific crimes remains a challenge. She stressed the need to continue collecting evidence for alleged crimes committed during the conflict, especially as regards crimes against humanity. Moreover, she sounded the alarm over crimes committed against migrants in Libya who continue to suffer serious abuses with total impunity, adding that serious violations include torture and detention in degrading conditions. Against this backdrop, she called on the Court and the Libyan authorities to fully investigate these horrific crimes and bring perpetrators to justice. Further, she supported the opening of the Court’s Office in Tripoli, underscoring that accountability is crucial to prevent future violations.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique) said it is timely and important that the Security Council take stock of what has been done so far in the implementation of its decision to refer the situation in Libya to the Court in 2011, and its reflection must be oriented to results vis-à-vis the promotion of durable peace in the country. The current Libyan peace process must be led and owned by the Libyans themselves. There is also a need to give relevance to the role of the national judiciary system and reconciliation mechanisms, so that the perpetrators of crimes against humanity are held accountable and justice rendered for the victims and those affected, he added. The Prosecutor’s report presents an excellent opportunity for constructive engagement with the Libyan authorities, he said, stressing that the Council for its part should encourage the Office of the Prosecutor to maintain an engaged dialogue with the Libyan authorities and stakeholders.
DIARRA DIME LABILLE (France), stressing the need for active cooperation between the Court and national authorities to ensure accountability for crimes committed in Libya, added that the Prosecutor’s visit to Libya last November was an opportunity to consolidate this. Expressing support for the creation of a field office in Tripoli for the Prosecutor, she said this has allowed for increased engagement with victims and affected communities. Underscoring the need to investigate and prosecute all serious crimes committed in Libya since 2011, including those committed by Da’esh and crimes against migrants and refugees, she expressed concern about forced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, as well as inhumane conditions in detention centres, and urged all Libyan stakeholders to commit to a stable and democratic country. The legitimacy of political institutions must be restored, she said, also stressing the need for the reunification of the Libyan army and secure elections.
Ms. ZABOLATSKAYA (Russian Federation) said the Court shows once again its disrespect for the Council when it sends under the guise of investigation reports a list of new justifications for inaction. “The most recent document is no exception,” she said. Describing the Court as “a highly politicized institution that has nothing to do with rendering justice,” she said it is not implementing Council resolution 1970 (2011) as its main task in Libya. The Court has become a fully-fledged participant of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s aggression against Libya. The crusade of the United States-led coalition against this formally flourishing country resulted in complete destruction of its statehood, the prolonging of Libya’s civil war and the loss of lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Libyans. The country has greatly suffered economically, and it has been thrown back for decades. As a direct consequence of these events, the countries of the region have been suffering from terrorist threats. “This is a genuine catastrophe, and the International Criminal Court is directly connected to it,” she asserted, condemning unjustified NATO military aggression which dehumanized the Libyan leadership, including former President Muammar Qadhafi.
The former Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo approached this task creatively in three days, she said. Mr. Moreno put together the so-called charges sheet; the first one had to do with Viagra being provided to those units which were attacking Tripoli to stimulate their potential to conduct mass rapes. Such accusations turned out to be lies, refuted even by Western non-governmental organizations. The military crimes committed by NATO were of no interest to the Court as it “would not want to go against [its] masters”; similarly, it showed no interest in the violent killing of Mr. Qadhafi. “[The Court] probably thinks it is normal to extrajudicially eliminate unwanted leaders,” she said, adding that its justice has “an on-and-off switch”. Turning to the question of who really determines the priorities of this “puppet Court” and its “pet Prosecutor”, she drew attention to the financial side of this body that is “trumpeting its independence”. The collective West is shamelessly and openly paying for the Court’s processes, under the guise of voluntary contributions, she observed, noting that it has become an international screen behind which the United States and its satellites are dealing with their own political tasks. She identified the above as a reason why developing countries are considering leaving the Rome Statute.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil), noting his country’s long-standing participation in the Rome Statute system, emphasized the importance of a permanent international tribunal to fight impunity for the most serious crimes under international law. Cooperation between States parties is essential to allow the Court to exercise its functions in Libya, considering that the Court does not have an enforcement body. Welcoming its increased cooperation with Libyan national authorities and the establishment of a liaison office in Tripoli, he stressed the importance of prioritizing justice for victims over political polarization. Encouraging the Prosecutor to further engage with victims, he stressed the importance of collective reparation and urged the Prosecutor to unseal existing arrest warrants in the interest of transparency.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) said the use of technology, such as the Relativity tool, can improve and expedite evidence collection processes. Likewise, it is fundamental to have experts specializing specifically in investigations, he added, calling on all organizations, both within the United Nations system and Member States, to continue providing this type of cooperation. The Office of the Prosecutor must have complete safe access to the whole territory and relevant documentation, and it must receive timely responses to requests for information, he underscored, urging national authorities to uphold their obligation to cooperate, including in the execution of arrest warrants. Urgent measures are required to halt the violence perpetrated against migrants. Also, international cooperation must be strengthened to dismantle transnational organized crime networks engaged in human trafficking, he emphasized, urging the Prosecutor’s Office and Libyan authorities to redouble their efforts to bring the perpetrators of those crimes to justice. Calling for the Court to be endowed with the necessary resources, he also urged the Council to reflect on the mechanisms that could be used to step up cooperation between the Council and the Court, especially when cases are referred to it.
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta), noting that the implementation of the renewed strategy in Libya has shown progress, pointed to the acceleration of evidence collection and the issuance of multiple arrest warrants. The Court’s increased engagement with victims, victims’ associations, civil society organizations and human rights activists is commendable, especially with regard to crimes affecting women and children. However, more focus is required to ensure that impunity for human trafficking and sexual and gender-based crimes does not prevail, she stressed. Also commending the cooperation between the Court, the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, and UNSMIL, she said their efforts have resulted in investigations and prosecutions. She also called for further cooperation for the upcoming operational and logistical mission, including the establishment of a liaison office in Tripoli, access to relevant documentation and engagement with technical authorities.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said strengthening investigative capacities and using Arabic-speaking experts should help ensure the principle of legality and regularity of judicial procedures. He welcomed the evidence management platform using artificial intelligence and machine learning, noting that it will improve the quality and quantity of databases. He encouraged the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to continue working closely with Libyan authorities while involving to a greater degree the international and regional actors and civil society. Dialogue with victims, victims’ associations, local communities and civil society is an essential aspect and must be strengthened, he added. Further, an approach that promotes the establishment of truth, justice and reparations, as well as ensuring non-repetition, must be prioritized. The international community must continue supporting the Prosecutor and his Office in its sensitive mission, he emphasized, noting the volatile security context in which the new investigative strategy is being deployed.
SUN ZHIQIANG (China), noting that the Libyan parties are advancing their political process, pointed to the establishment of the joint 6+6 committee and expressed support for continued dialogue to create conditions for the general elections to be held as soon as possible. External interference is a major cause of the protracted crisis in Libya, he pointed out, adding that the international community must respect the principle of Libyan ownership and provide constructive support for its political stability, national reconciliation and economic development. Highlighting the complex impact of externally imposed solutions on Libya, he added that China’s position on International Criminal Court-related activities remains unchanged. The Court must continue to strictly follow the principle of complementarity as stipulated in the Rome Statute, fully respect the judicial sovereignty of the country’s concerned and avoid politicization and double standards in its work, he underscored.
SUOOD RASHED ALI ALWALI ALMAZROUEI (United Arab Emirates), stressing the importance of building partnerships with national actors, reiterated his call for continued proactive cooperation with national Libyan authorities while supporting their local efforts in that regard. There must be continued international cooperation in dismantling the networks of transnational organized crime, including in countries of origin, destination and transit. Since achieving accountability and transitional justice is a sovereign prerogative of States, cooperation with relevant national authorities in Libya must be strengthened by taking their concerns and needs into consideration, as well as through continued meetings and contact. This will not only enable relevant actors to take concrete steps at the national level but will also contribute to the existing efforts that have been undertaken in accordance with the memorandum of understanding signed with the Office of the Libyan Public Prosecutor. Compliance with the principle of complementarity under the Rome Statute requires respect for the views and positions of the State concerned, he underscored, voicing his hope that the Organization’s concerted efforts will realize the aspirations of Libya’s people.
PASCALE BAERISWYL (Switzerland), Security Council President for the month, speaking in her national capacity, commended the Office of the Prosecutor for the progress made in the implementation of the renewed action strategy for Libya, particularly the efficient allocation of resources coupled with the use of advanced technology in evidence management, as well as efforts to make justice accessible to victims. Cooperation is key to the proper functioning of the Court, she stressed, encouraging Libyan authorities to continue to cooperate fully with the Office of the Prosecutor, particularly regarding access to documentation and the prompt follow-up to requests for legal assistance. The mission of the Court, as the only permanent international criminal court, remains the priority in delivering justice, in Libya and elsewhere, she underscored. For the Court to be able to carry out its mandate effectively, its independence and impartiality must be preserved, and necessary human and financial resources provided to it, she said, calling on all States to support the Court.
TAHER M.T. ELSONNI (Libya), stressing his country’s commitment to accountability and the ability of its national legal system to ensure that, said “the administration of justice on Libyan territories is a sovereign prerogative”. Libya’s judiciary is committed to fair and impartial trials and its cooperation with the International Criminal Court is based on the principle of complementarity, he stressed, adding that the Court is not an alternative to the Libyan judiciary. Recalling the mass graves uncovered in Tarhuna, he pointed to the discovery of more tombs and bodies in recent years. The search process is still ongoing, he said, adding that the Libyan prosecution office is working scrupulously to identify those bodies and find the perpetrators. Many are at large, he said, calling on the Prosecutor to issue arrest warrants for them and assist the Libyan authorities in addressing those who shelter them and refuse to extradite them.
Despite the difficult circumstances, he continued, Libya is eager to safeguard migrants and is working to voluntarily repatriate them and is collaborating with concerned States. However, the responsibility for crimes against migrants should not be laid at the door of only his country, he underscored, calling upon the international community to look into facts without politicizing. Noting that the current migrant situation is not new or detached from foreign interference, he stressed: “This is your responsibility.” His country’s prosecution has managed to identify several people involved in international trafficking networks, he said, as he called on the Court to coordinate with the national prosecutor to unveil the perpetrators of all crimes whether they are individuals, entities or States. Until then there will be no concrete results, he cautioned, adding that the divisions in the Council cannot be separated from what is going on in Libya. “Remember,” he added, “Libyans are tired of blaming us alone as if there is no moral or international responsibility.”
Mr. KHAN, taking the floor a second time, pointed out that the Court is based on complementarity and not competition. The Rome Statute is not an effort to seize jurisdiction or conjure clever legal arguments but rather one to work together so as to give less space for impunity and provide more room for justice, he emphasized. As such, collaboration and cooperation are important now more than ever. Regarding his approach, he said that arrest warrants should be public and will be sealed if there is an immediate arrest opportunity. While he has already applied for the arrest warrants in the case of Libya to be unsealed, it is the judges who will decide.
He then elaborated on the Prosecutor Office’s Trust Fund and its secondments, underscoring the need to make clear that the cause of international justice is the cause of humanity. Even though the Court is not a panacea for all ills, it nevertheless has an important role and is trying to have more of an impact. “I am the first to accept that international justice is far from perfect,” he said, emphasizing: “It is only right to say that the face of humanity has been scarred, deeply wounded by the imperfect application of international law — but that should not be any defence or justification for Member States, for the international community [nor] for non-State actors to self-mutilate and further disfigure other parts of the body.” What is at stake is not the Court but what every Council member is doing to support humanity, he underlined.