LIBYA has rejected an arrest warrant issued for Muammar Gaddafi, saying it does not accept the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction and the move was a “cover” for a NATO bombing campaign.
The ICC’s decision is a “cover for NATO which is still trying to assassinate Gaddafi,” said Libya’s justice minister, Mohammed al-Gamudi.
He noted that his country was not a signatory to the Treaty of Rome establishing the tribunal based in The Hague, and “does not accept the jurisdiction of the court.”
The ICC issued arrest warrants for the 69-year-old Libyan leader, his son Seif al-Islam, 39, and 62-year-old intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi for crimes against humanity committed against regime opponents.
The decision was hailed by world powers and leaders of rebels who have been fighting to overthrow the 41-year Gaddafi regime since his forces launched a bloody crackdown on pro-reform protests in mid-February.
The White House hailed the ICC warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity, describing the move as “another indication” that Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy.
Britain, another leading member of the UN-mandated international effort to protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces, also welcomed the court’s decision and said members of the Libyan regime should now abandon him.
“Individuals throughout the regime should abandon Gaddafi,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
Italy said the decision of the court, set up in 2002, confirmed that Gaddafi had lost all “moral legitimacy” and could have “no role in the future of his country”.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the warrant “confirms that the question is not whether Gaddafi should leave power, but when he will leave power.”
The ICC said the three men are charged for their roles in suppressing the revolt, in which civilians were murdered and persecuted by Libyan forces, particularly in Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the rebel National Transitional Council, vowed to bring the veteran strongman to justice.
Residents of the rebel bastion of Benghazi greeted the news from The Hague with a hail of gunfire into the air and blasts of car horns, and Jalil welcomed the move by saying “justice has been done.”
The rebel leader, speaking through an interpreter, said the decision by the ICC to pursue Gaddafi for war crimes made any talks impossible.
“The decision that was made today by the International Criminal Court stops all suggestions of negotiations with or protection for Gaddafi.”
Jalil also vowed to bring Gaddafi to task for crimes committed before the February uprising, but ruled out suggestions that a foreign force would be needed to catch him.
“We will do all we can to bring Gaddafi to justice… The Libyan people are able to implement this decision.”
Libya’s rebels hope that the ICC’s decision will heap pressure on those close to Gaddafi, as they raised the prospect of further prosecutions.
“If anyone hides him, they will be tracked down and brought to justice,” Jalil warned.
In Washington, where US President Barack Obama is under increasing domestic pressure over Gaddafi’s defiance, the White House said the Libyan strongman “has lost his legitimacy.”
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the court’s move underlined “the increasing isolation of the Gaddafi regime.”
Britain and France, two of the lead nations in NATO’s bombing campaign backed by a UN Security Council resolution, said the Gaddafi regime should see the writing on the wall.
But one African leader, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma who has been involved in an African Union initiative on Libya, expressed disappointment at the court’s decision.
“It’s quite unfortunate that the ICC could take such a decision whilst the African Union through its ad hoc committee has done so much,” presidential spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.