The International Criminal Court on Tuesday gave Libya’s leaders two more weeks to decide whether they plan to hand over Moammar Gadhafi’s most prominent son, Seif al-Islam, to face trial on charges of crimes against humanity.
Libyan authorities had sought a three-week extension of the deadline, which expired on Tuesday, citing the “security situation” in the country.
A three-judge panel, however, said Libya’s request “would cause an undue delay in the proceedings and that only a shorter extension is appropriate.” The judges set Jan. 23 as the new deadline.
Seif al-Islam, 39, was arrested on Nov. 19 and is currently in the custody of the military council in Zintan, 110 miles southwest of Tripoli.
Last month, Fred Abrahams, a special adviser for Human Rights Watch, met with Seif al-Islam, who told him he was treated well, but had not yet seen a lawyer. Libyan authorities cited the security situation in the country as the reason Seif al-Islam had not yet conferred with a lawyer.
“I visited him in Zintan, so there is no reason a lawyer can’t be allowed to see him in Zintan,” said Mr. Abrahams, one of the few foreigners allowed to see the prisoner.
“The fundamental right is the right to a lawyer. [The revolutionaries] said this revolution was about ending political trials and granting due process,” he added.
The ICC issued arrest warrants in June for Seif al-Islam, his now-deceased father, and his uncle, Abdullah al-Senoussi, who served as the chief of intelligence in the regime. Col. Gadhafi was killed after he was captured by revolutionaries in his hometown, Sirte, on Oct. 20.
Seif al-Islam is under investigation for corruption prior to the uprising that started in February and for crimes he is said to have committed during the regime’s crackdown, according to Libya’s chief prosecutor.
Libyan authorities are obligated by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 to surrender Seif al-Islam to the ICC. He could be sentenced to death if found guilty of committing crimes against humanity.
Fadi El Abdallah, an ICC spokesman, told The Times in a phone interview that the court has submitted a request to Libyan authorities to hand over Seif al-Islam.
Libyan officials are determined to try him in a Libyan court, but can only do so if they can persuade the ICC that he would get a fair trial.
“[Libyan authorities] will need to show before the ICC judges that there is a real possibility to conduct genuine and capable national prosecutions, and it will be for the ICC judges to decide whether or not to continue with the case,” said Mr. El Abdallah.
Human rights advocates are skeptical about whether Seif al-Islam could get a fair trial in Libya.
“I don’t think at the moment anybody can say they are confident that he can get a fair trial,” said Donatella Rovera, London-based crisis director at Amnesty International, in a phone interview.
“This is a very, very high-profile case … . Many will see it as a test case [for Libyan authorities].”
Mr. Abrahams of Human Rights Watch added, “It is not impossible, but the challenges to a fair trial are great.”
One of the main challenges is that the transitional government has no control over most of the detention facilities or the various armed groups that continue to operate in Libya.
There are about 8,000 detainees in more than 60 locations in Libya, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.