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Libya war crimes trial ruling

Naomi ConradJuly 28, 2015

A Libyan court has sentenced one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons to death for war crimes during the 2011 revolution. DW spoke to Nassr al-Hawari from the Libyan Observatory for Human Rights.

Libyen ein Jahr nach Gaddafi
Image: DW/G.Anderson

DW: In Libya today, despite the UN-brokered peace deal, two governments are vying for power: the intentionally recognized one and the self-proclaimed administration dominated by Islamists in Tripoli. This has created a vacuum of power that, in many parts of the country, has led to various militia groups and militants, including the "Islamic State" (IS or ISIS), taking control, even running jihadi training camps. Human rights organizations have documented cases of intimidation of lawyers and judges. Given this environment, is there even still a functioning legal system in the country?

Nassr al-Hawari: No, our legal system is no longer functioning, not at all. There is widespread torture in prison, many are denied access to a lawyer, and there are many cases of inmates not receiving adequate medial care. The former head of intelligence, Abdullah Senussi, for example, still doesn't have a lawyer. Another problem is that many lawyers are afraid to take on his case, because they are afraid they might be targeted.

Seif al-Islam has been sentenced to death today - how do you react?

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi Festnahme Libyen
Still from video footage of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Zintan, Libya, November 2011Image: AP/Zintan Media Center
I don't think the sentence will be carried out when it comes to Seif al-Islam, because he is being held by one of the most important militia groups in Zintan, which is opposed to the government in Tripoli. So I don't think they will carry out the death sentence from a govenrment that has no authority there. I am 100 percent sure that the militias won't send him to Tripoli - that just won't happen. If they're prepared to send him anywhere, it might be to the ICC (International Criminal Court) in The Hague. What is more, the accused can still appeal the verdict.

What influence does the former ruling family still hold today, if any?

Seif al-Islam no longer holds the kind of power and influence that his father and his family used to. Some tribes are still supporting him, that is true, but at the same time many tribes that used to support them have stopped doing so, because they have family members who are in one of the two governments - so not because of political reasons, but because of tribal ties, you see. So that is how Gadhafi lost many of his former supporters. But, recently, more voices have come out in support of the Gadhafi family and former intelligence chief Senussi, because they believe that if they were in power once again they might be able to fight against ISIS and the extremists.

The Libyan army, under the leadership of General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, who was appointed by the internationally recognized government in Tobruk, is fighting against IS, which has gained an important stronghold in the country. Is there any political oversight on this battle?

The Libyan army is fighting against ISIS in Benghazi and most towns in the east of the country, but Tripoli and the west of Libya are controlled by ISIS. Haftar is acting independently, he's not aligned with any of the fighting factions in Libya. This is why both secular groups in Libya and the Islamists fear Haftar, because they know that he hasn't sided with any of them. He's totally independent so they are afraid that he might do what al-Sisi did in Egypt.

In Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, ex-army general turned president, ousted former president and member of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests. Are you personally afraid of a similar army coup in Libya?

Judging by what Haftar has said so far, I'm not afraid of an army coup in Libya. But you never know, it might happen.

Alexandria-based Nassr al-Hawari is a co-founder and director of the Libyan Observatory for Human Rights.