Gratification greeted the decision by judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Monday to issue arrest warrants for Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, one of his sons and the country's spy chief.
Rebels rejoice at news of the arrest warrant
Libyan rebels, human rights groups and numerous governments around the world warmly welcomed the decision by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Monday to issue warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his son, Saif al-Islam, and the regime's director of intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi, Gadhafi's brother-in-law.
The three men have been charged with crimes against humanity, committed against opponents of the regime since mid-February of this year.
Libyan rebels, from Benghazi to Misrata, poured into the streets to spray the sky with celebratory gunfire after the announcement was made. Scenes of joy erupted spontaneously all over Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital.
NATO, which is coordinating and conducting the air campaign against the Libyan leader, said the indictments showed that time was running out for Gadhafi.
"The decision once again highlights the increasing isolation of the Gadhafi regime," said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Governments respond positively
The White House in Washington responded almost immediately with spokesman Jay Carney saying it was "another indication that Moammar Gadhafi had lost his legitimacy."
From the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "the need for justice and accountability is absolutely clear."
Rebels continue to fight and have made some ground
"The actions of the security forces and the Gadhafi regime that are highlighted in the court's decision underscored the gravity of what we've been witnessing," Nuland said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe stressed that the warrant "confirms that today the question is not whether Gadhafi should leave power, but when he will leave power."
In Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the warrant was "what he had been waiting for."
"The future is certainly better as a result of this decision." he noted.
In a statement later, his foreign ministry added that "the decision confirms that Gadhafi has lost all moral legitimacy, not to mention political legitimacy, in relation to the Libyan people and the international community and that he can therefore play no further role in Libya's future."
Rights groups praise move
Human rights groups also hailed the announcement. New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the warrant "signaled that the law can reach even those long thought to be immune to accountability."
An HRW statement said the group had documented what it called "serious and systematic violations of the laws of war by Libyan government forces during the current armed conflict."
In London, Amesty International's director of law and policy, Michael Bochenek, said " a failure to arrest and prosecute the accused men would send a disturbing message that such crimes can continue to be committed with impunity."
The ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had asked the ICC in May to issue the warrants for the killing of protesters in Libya, after the UN Security Council referred the case to the court.
Gadhafi still has little intention of goving up
At the time, Ocampo said his office had obtained "strong" and "direct" evidence that Gadhafi "relies on his inner circle to implement a systematic policy of suppressing any challenge to his authority."
On Sunday, Ocampo had said the war crimes in Libya would not stop until Gadhafi was arrested.
"Crimes continue today in Libya. To stop the crimes and protect civilians in Libya, Gadhafi must be arrested," he said in a statement.
Monday's announcement marks the first time that the ICC has ever issued arrest warrants during an ongoing conflict. And, it is only the second time that a country's leader has been named, after an arrest warrant was issued in March 2009 for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Thousands have died in the fighting so far, while an estimated 650,000 people have fled the country. Another 243,000 Libyans have been displaced internally, according to the latest United Nations figures.
Author: Gregg Benzow (dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Michael Lawton