ICC prosecutor warns Libyan combatants against war crimes

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor warned Libya’s warring parties Wednesday that her office is prepared to investigate and prosecute anyone committing war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Fatou Bensouda’s warning in a briefing to the Security Council followed the U.N. health agency’s tweet that 443 people have been killed and 2,110 wounded since an offensive was launched against Libya’s capital of Tripoli on April 4 by Khalifa Hifter, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army.

The offensive could plunge the oil-rich country into possibly the worst violence since the 2011 civil war that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The chaos that followed resulted in a divided Libya, with a weak U.N.-supported administration in Tripoli overseeing the country’s west and a government in the east aligned with Hifter. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.

Hifter launched the offensive days before a national conference of all Libyan parties was scheduled to begin, aimed at an agreement on elections for a new government. It has been postponed.

With the number of people displaced by fighting approaching 60,000, the World Health Organization said in a tweet Wednesday that it is working to coordinate health services for them.

The U.N. refugee agency called for refugees and migrants in detention centers in conflict areas in Tripoli to be immediately evacuated to safety, after an airstrike injured two migrants.

The agency said it has relocated over 1,200 people from high-risk locations to safer areas since the offensive began, but some 3,460 refugees and migrants remain in detention centers near conflict-affected areas.

“The risks are simply unacceptable at this point,” Vincent Cochetel, the refugee agency’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean said in a statement. “People inside detention centers in Tripoli are facing ever-increasing dangers, making it vital that we immediately move them out of harm’s way.”

In Paris, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, who heads the U.N.-supported government, said after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron that he is prepared to return to the peace process “as soon as possible.” But he said in an interview with France 24 that a fresh peace effort would be difficult due to Hifter’s offensive, which he called an attempted coup.

At the Security Council, Bensouda expressed “great regret” that “fighting in Libya continues unabated” and that violence has escalated over the past six months.

She stressed the requirement of combatants to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and detention centers.

“I urge this council and all member states of the United Nations to ensure a consistent and unambiguous message is conveyed to all warring factions in Libya that the rules of international humanitarian law must be fully respected, and that perpetrators of atrocity crimes will be held individually criminally responsible,” she said.

Many council members called for a cease-fire and a return to a political path.

The Security Council referred the situation in Libya to the ICC in 2011 but Bensouda complained to the council that the three suspects sought by the court remain at large — Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the late dictator’s son; Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a commander in the Libyan National Army; and Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former head of the Libyan Internal Security Agency.

Bensouda said her office is assessing “the feasibility of bringing cases before the ICC in relation to crimes against migrants.” She said that “the body of evidence collected by my office indicates that crimes including torture, unlawful imprisonment, rape and enslavement are committed against migrants throughout their journeys and in both official and unofficial detention centers.”