International Criminal Court judges have long wanted to see if Libya has a functioning justice system able to handle the trial of war crimes suspect Saif Al Islam Gaddafi and now it seems they will get their wish - with Tripoli’s impending prosecution of an ICC official.
By Chris Stephen, Tripoli
The official, Australian ICC defence lawyer Melinda Taylor, was detained during an official visit to Saif who is being held in the mountain town of Zintan, 90 miles south-west of Tripoli.
Libya accused her of passing unauthorised documents to Saif, son of Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Earlier this week Australian Foreign Minister Robert Carr announced her imminent release after he brokered talks between Tripoli and the court.
But on Thursday night Libyan prime minister Abdullrahim El Keib announced that Taylor will stay where she is, facing criminal investigation.
“During the meeting with the defendant (Saif), the defendant Milena Taylor handed over the accused some documents and papers which compromise the national security of Libya,” he said. “These documents have nothing to do with the ICC mission.”
Keib declined to say what the documents were, but insisted they were outside her official ICC remit of providing Saif with legal advice. “They are not linked in any way whatsoever with the legal consultation of this case.”
Keib said Taylor was caught “red handed” during what was her second visit to see Saif. A Libyan government spokesman said that officials have begun “interrogating” her.
And the prime minister accused the ICC of a lapse in standards.”The ICC should guarantee the professional morality and ethics of those sent to Libya.” The result is that the ICC will mark its tenth birthday on July 1 facing the most serious crisis in its short history. Never before has one of its officials been arrested and held in detention.
Taylor travelled to Zintan on June 7 with a Lebanese translator, a Russian diplomat and Spanish legal expert, all from the ICC. These three officials have been told they are free to leave but have elected to stay with Taylor in Zintan.
ICC spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah said the court had had no contact with Taylor since June 12, but that negotiations with Libya were continuing: “Until these persons are released and returned to The Hague and the ICC can order its own inquiry into what happened we cannot comment.”
Libya’s relations with the ICC have been strained ever since Saif, who is indicted for crimes against humanity, was arrested by Zintani militia last November. Libya at first insisted it would hold Saif’s trial on home soil, despite the ICC requiring he be surrendered to The Hague.
Tripoli’s stance has since softened, and Libya has hired high-profile British human rights lawyer Philippe Sands to launch a formal challenge to Hague judges to show it has a legal system able to guarantee Saif a fair trial.
Hague judges will want to see that legal system in action, and Keib’s comments indicate they may get their wish - with the case against Taylor.