UNITED NATIONS – The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says she is collecting evidence for filing possible new war crimes charges against supporters and opponents of Moammar Gadhafi during last year's Libyan civil war.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she expects to decide soon on "the direction" of a possible new case that could see the first charges stemming from the Libyan civil war since the ICC issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son and heir-apparent Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi in May 2011. They were accused of committing crimes against humanity by targeting civilians in a crackdown against rebels that led to the Libyan leader's ouster and death.
Libya has challenged the ICC's right to try Seif al-Islam. Bensouda said she doesn't expect the tribunal's judges to take too long to decide whether he should be prosecuted at the court in The Hague, Netherlands, or in his home country.
"I think they will ... consider giving clarity to the parties and participants as soon as possible," she said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Bensouda also discussed the importance of capturing the infamous African warlord Joseph Kony, her recent visit to Kenya to seek cooperation in the upcoming trial of four prominent Kenyans for crimes stemming from the country's 2007-2008 post-election violence, and her frustration at being unable to act in response to the ongoing attacks on civilians.
Bensouda was at U.N. headquarters to give her first briefing on ICC activities in Libya to the Security Council since she took over the prosecutor's job from Luis Moreno-Ocampo in June. The council referred the Libyan uprising against Gadhafi to the court in February 2011.
The prosecutor said in the interview after Wednesday's council briefing that if the judges rule that Seif al-Islam should be tried by the ICC "it will be difficult" to enforce the decision.
But she said Libya has been operating within the Rome statute that established the court in challenging the ICC's jurisdiction, and she expects the government's cooperation in handing Seif al-Islam over if that is the judges' decision. If the judges decide to allow Seif al-Islam to be tried in Libya, "we will continue to monitor what Libya is doing," she added.
Seif al-Islam is being held by a militia group in the Libyan town of Zintan. Bensouda said she has been urging the government to appoint a lawyer for him. Al-Senoussi was captured after fleeing to Mauritania and was extradited to Libya in September.
Regarding possible new Libya cases, the prosecutor said she is collecting information on allegations of rape and sexual violence targeting men and women, gathering evidence against other members of the Gadhafi government, and investigating allegations of war crimes committed by rebel forces against Gadhafi loyalists and residents of Tawerga. The town was used as a staging ground by Gadhafi's forces to launch attacks on Misrata, Libya's third-largest city and its commercial hub, where rebel fighters fought off a bloody siege in what became one of the turning points of Libya's civil war.
Bensouda said she is examining allegations that civilians in Tawerga were subject to killings, looting, torture and forced displacement by Misrata militias which could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
As for Kony, Bensouda said finding the Lord's Resistance Army leader — the first suspect indicted by the ICC on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2005 — is proving difficult because his small band of fighters is moving between remote areas of South Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic that are very difficult to access.
She said the 100 U.S. Special Forces troops sent by President Barack Obama about a year ago to help Ugandan-led African Union troops hunt down Kony have been playing an advisory role, "but I think they are also progressing to actually taking part in tracking him and finding him and eventually getting him arrested."
Lt. Col. James O. Gregory, a spokesman for the Special Forces, said late Friday that "unfortunately, I cannot discuss any potential role changes for our forces involved in this mission."
Bensouda said she hopes Kony will be captured in the coming year.
"I think that getting Joseph Kony before the ICC will be a big plus for those who lead militias and play havoc with civilian populations and think that they can continue to evade justice," she said. "I think it is very positive that attempts are being made to have him arrested and surrendered to the ICC."
Bensouda said her office remains in constant touch with the Ugandans about the operation "and we were assured that if he is arrested he will be sent to the ICC."
In March, the fugitive warlord became the subject of renewed international attention after the U.S. charity Invisible Children released an online video aimed at raising awareness of crimes attributed to Kony's LRA rebels that quickly went viral. Kony's rebellion originated in Uganda before spreading to other parts of Central Africa and is accused of mass murder, recruiting children to become soldiers or sex slaves, and mutilating victims by cutting off their tongues and lips.
On the Kenyan case, Bensouda said the four Kenyans are scheduled to go on trial at the ICC in The Hague in April — soon after the March presidential election in which two of the accused are candidates — former Education Minister William Ruto and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding president Jomo Kenyatta.
More than 1,000 people died in post-election violence following Kenya's last presidential election, and Bensouda said "there is big panic" about a repetition of violence in next year's voting.
During her visit to Kenya in October, Bensouda said the ICC issued its warrants "based on individual criminal responsibility" and was not trying to interfere in the election.
Bensouda said she also pressed the Kenyan government for cooperation because the court's requests for assistance had not been answered for some time. After meetings with the president and other top officials, she said she received "very firm assurances" of cooperation..
As for Syria, the prosecutor said she is concerned about crimes against civilians but can't do anything because Syria is not a party to the ICC and the Security Council has not referred the conflict between President Bashar Assad's government and rebel forces to the court.