NATO countries may face war crimes inquiry
BRUSSELS — Some NATO members are worried that their organization may be investigated by the International Criminal Court after its prosecutor said allegations of crimes committed by NATO in Libya would be examined “impartially and independently,” according to diplomats accredited to NATO headquarters.
The diplomats said action to pre-empt a war crimes investigation would likely include an immediate internal legal review of all incidents in which NATO bombing or other actions caused civilian casualties.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The alliance has always maintained that its operations in Libya were carried out strictly in keeping with a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized member states “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack” in the North African country.
NATO leaders repeatedly have hailed the precision with which the mission was carried out, citing the small number of civilian deaths caused by the bombing as evidence of its success.
Still, in a briefing to the Security Council on Nov. 2, International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said “there are allegations of crimes committed by NATO forces [and] these allegations will be examined impartially and independently.”
His office currently is focusing on crimes committed by members of the ousted Gadhafi regime and is waiting for a report by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry in Libya, due in March, before deciding whether to proceed with a formal investigation into alleged crimes by NATO.
NATO has said it was confident its actions were in compliance with international law and that the alliance is not worried by the possibility of a war crimes probe.
“In the event we receive a request for information, NATO is prepared to assist in any way it can,” said an official who could not be identified under standing rules.
Officials from the alliance say that between March and October NATO warplanes flew 26,000 sorties, including more than 9,600 strike missions, destroying more than 1,000 tanks, vehicles, and guns, as well as buildings claimed to have housed “command and control” centers.
These included facilities such as Moammar Gadhafi’s heavily fortified compound in Tripoli, but also residential homes of his supporters - targets that could be considered outside the U.N. mandate.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that, although NATO and other international organizations enjoy diplomatic immunity in criminal cases, they fall under Belgian jurisdiction in civil suits.
The immunity applies only to those holding diplomatic status.