ICC lawyers continue to be held in Libya | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 12.06.2012
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ICC lawyers continue to be held in Libya

Gadhafi is gone, but law and order are not guaranteed in Libya. The new authorities have taken representatives from the International Criminal Court into custody, accusing them of espionage.

Libya has ignored the diplomatic immunity typically enjoyed by members of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Militia members accused several ICC lawyers of spying and of plotting with the imprisoned son of Moammar Gadhafi, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi.

ICC President Sang-Hyun Song expressed concern for his co-workers and demanded their release from Libya. On Monday the German government seconded calls for their release.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed that members of the ICC are intended to have immunity from criminal charges while travelling on official business. Westerwelle said that the German government insists this immunity be preserved.

Conflict centers on Gadhafi's son

Libya's Foreign Ministry called on the ICC to annul the immunity its employees enjoy so that investigations can take place. The background to the story is that Libya and the ICC have been in dispute for months about the 39-year-old Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, second son of the former ruler. Moammar Gadhafi was toppled and executed by rebels in October 2011. In the following month, Saif was captured in southern Libya near the border to Niger.

Libya's transitional government would like to try Seif al-Islam at home, but the ICC, based in The Hague, would prefer to see him transferred to the Netherlands. Last week an ICC delegation travelled to Libya to seek out Gadhafi's son in prison. It was then that members of the delegation were arrested. Two days passed before official word came that the arrests had taken place.

Moammar Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam

Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam is at the heart of the dispute

The Libyan government's charges of espionage are directed chiefly at Melinda Taylor, the Australian attorney who has been assigned to defend Seif al-Islam. Taylor is accused of carrying a pen with an integrated camera as well as a letter from al-Islam's associate Mohammad Ismail, who is currently sought by Libyan authorities. Militia commander Ajmi al-Uteiri told news broadcaster Al-Jazeera that secret documents were exchanged during Taylor's meeting with Seif al-Islam. Al-Uteiri added that Gadhafi's son claimed there was no legal government in Libya and that he was being treated poorly.

Libyaexpert Andreas Dittmann at the University of Giessen told DW that the Libyan government was overreacting for lack of knowledge.

"There's a general nervousness behind it," he said. "There's been a fundamental uneasiness in dealing with the opposition, and they are quickly labelled as possibly pro-Gadhafi. There's likely something similar going on with the imprisonment of the ICC workers. For Western observers, the search for information and conversations with the accused party are normal, but in Libya, those moves are interpreted as sympathy for Gadhafi. That's why they're reacting as they are."

Lawyer Melinda Taylor

Lawyer Melinda Taylor is being held in Libya

Dittmann says the situation in the country is very tense at the moment. In southeast Libya, heavy fighting took place in recent days between militias and local Toubou tribes, a minority group in Libya. The transitional government in Tripoli has not had much experience in dealing with such clashes, which are likely to emerge more often in the future. Dittmann explained that though there was no direct connection between the clashes and the treatment of the ICC officials, a general relationship exists given the level of uncertainty in Libya.

Differing conceptions of justice

But he believes that the current dispute between Tripoli and the Hague also results from differing conceptions of justice.

"In German law, it's suspicious that this letter, which is actually a confidential affair between the accused and his legal representative, has come under scrutiny," said Dittmann. "That shows that we are dealing with very different approaches to law."

Andreas Dittmann

Dittmann says differing conceptions of law are in evidence

There's no sign so far of an agreement between Libya and the ICC, but the government spokesman Nasser al-Manaa told the German press agency dpa in Tripoli, "Libya considers it important to have a good relationship with the International Criminal Court and to the international community generally, but not at the cost of Libya's higher interests."

But it remains unclear what exactly Libya considers higher interests. It's also not clear what "offence" the ICC lawyers may have committed.

Author: Günther Birkenstock / gsw
Editor: Michael Lawton

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