The International Criminal Court's prosecutor has requested that judges issue arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and two others for crimes against humanity.
Ocampo said Gadhafi planned attacks against civilians
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has asked judges to issue an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and two other senior members of his embattled regime for deliberately targeting civilians in their crackdown against rebels.
The prosecutor said Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and intelligence chief Abdullah Al Sanousi ordered, planned and participated in illegal attacks.
"The office gathered direct evidence about orders issued by Gadhafi himself, direct evidence of Seif al-Islam organizing the recruitment of mercenaries and direct evidence of al Sanousi in the attacks against demonstrators," Moreno-Ocampo said in The Hague on Monday.
A Libyan government official dismissed the ICC's decision. "The practices of the ICC are questionable. It's a baby of the European Union designed for [prosecuting] African politicians and leaders," Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said in Tripoli.
A three-judge panel must now evaluate the evidence before deciding whether to confirm the charges and issue international arrest warrants.
On February 26, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to refer Gadhafi's violent crackdown on peaceful protesters to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It was the first unanimous referral in the Security Council's history. While it might have lent moral support to the embattled rebels, it had little practical impact on the balance of power in Libya, where rebels have been fighting against Gaddafi's rule for three months and control the city of Benghazi and the oil-producing east. The war has meanwhile reached a virtual stalemate, with recent fighting centered on the port city of Misrata in the west and in the Western Mountains region.
However, holding the Gadhafi regime legally accountable for alleged crimes, though it may have limited impact on the Libyan conflict, could give renewed momentum to other opposition movements throughout the Arab world in their bid to force democratic reforms.
Partner to pariah
Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, told Deutsche Welle that the Security Council quickly turned against Gadhafi after he publicly expressed the intention to systematically attack civilians, which would amount to a crime against humanity.
"Members of the council were horrified by statements Moammar Gadhafi had made in the previous days promising bloodshed on a broad scale directed against those peaceful protestors in the streets of Libya," Dicker said. "And by the reports in the media of the security forces - some uniformed, some not uniformed, some reputed to be mercenaries - using violence and lethal means on a widespread basis."
Libyan leader Gadhafi has dug in to the end, experts say
Libya expert Dirk Vandewalle views Gadhafi's fall from international grace more as a story of political intrigue than values. Vandewalle, a professor at Dartmouth University, told Deutsche Welle that the Security Council is using human rights and the ICC as political tools to punish Gadhafi for having publicly fooled world leaders for years.
In 2003, the Gadhafi regime agreed to give up its WMD program and cooperate with the West on counterterrorism. Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam had also talked about the possibility of democratic reforms. As a reward, Tripoli was brought back into the international fold.
"This was a regime that had wanted to become reintegrated into the international community," Vandewalle said. "And then in the end, when the uprising took place, it was shown for what it was - a sham."
And the emerging reality of grassroots democratization in the Arab world may have convinced the major Western powers that it was time to dump Gadhafi. Anthony Dworkin - an expert on human rights and international justice - argues that the Security Council members were responding to fundamental changes in the politics of a broader region gripped by upheaval.
"What changed are the population and the regional context," Dworkin, who works with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Deutsche Welle. "It's no longer just international pressure against Libya - it's also international support for a protest movement that has turned into a large-scale attempt to change the political system under which the country is governed. "
Splitting the leadership
As the fighting in Libya rages on, Dicker says that the criminal investigation might deter some people in Gadhafi's inner circle from committing war crimes. On March 3, the ICC's chief prosecutor announced that the criminal investigation would focus on 10 to 15 top leaders. The Libyan national security advisor and Gadhafi's son Khamis are among those under scrutiny. Khamis commands the feared 32nd Brigade which is currently making advances against the rebels.
"The referral to the ICC was never expected to affect the thinking of Moammar Gadhafi and his actions," Dicker said. "It hoped to affect the thinking of lieutenants and henchman carrying out orders that under the ICC statute could amount to crimes that could in turn lead to prosecution by the court."
A refusal by top lieutenants to carry out orders would amount to a mutiny. Theoretically, the rebels could then exploit the division among Gadhafi's inner circle to regain lost momentum. However, Vandewalle says that the Gadhafi regime - largely a family enterprise - is unlikely to crack under international pressure.
"The regime was already so entrenched and so committed to fighting this out that it probably had little practical effect," he said. "If you listen to Gadhafi and [his son] Seif al-Islam talking about standing up to the last bullet - that was way before the ICC. They were committed to that kind of stand anyway."
The Libyan war has reached a stalemate
Impact on Arab world
Ultimately, the ICC decision may have a more profound impact on the uprisings in other Arab states, such as Bahrain. Vandewalle points to the Arab League's call for a no-fly zone over Libya as a sign that the broader Mideast is adopting the language of human rights as part of a political dialogue.
"The fact that this becomes part and parcel of an international conversation, of an international vocabulary is very important because it introduces a kind of a norm that we have not seen and that certainly the Arab leaderships themselves would have really objected to very violently until very recently," he said.
That international conversation has focused increasingly on government accountability. And in the Arab world, for the first time in recent history, accountability is being demanded below as well as above. Protesters are calling for reform at the grassroots level while the international community - through institutions like the ICC - is increasingly demanding that basic human rights be respected.
The fact that the ICC is holding the Gadhafi regime accountable for violently cracking down on the Libyan opposition could create a precedent that gives protesters around the Arab world the legal cover they need to stay in the street until their demands are met.
"The ICC actually wanting to take this up gave a lot more breathing room to these oppositions," Vandewalle said. "And the opposition could fold their dialogue or grievances that they had within a much larger international context saying [that] there's legitimacy here to what is being asked.
"In a sense that has really changed - perhaps for ever - Arab politics."
Author: Dagmar Breitenbach, Spencer Kimball (AP, dpa)
Editor: Rob Mudge