On March 3, 2011, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced he would open an investigation into the situation in Libya. This follows the referral on February 26, 2011 by the United Nations (UN) Security Council—by a vote of 15-0—of the situation in Libya since February 15, 2011 to the ICC prosecutor.
The ICC is a permanent international court with jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Currently, 114 states are parties to the ICC.
It is difficult to predict how long it might be between the beginning of an investigation and the issuance of arrest warrants or summonses. To date, the court’s investigations have lasted between 10 and 20 months before the first arrest warrants have been issued [….] In addition, because the ICC does not have its own police force and must rely on governments and the United Nations to enforce the warrants and effect arrests, some of its warrants have been outstanding for more than five years.
The UN Security Council resolution followed the establishment by the UN Human Rights Council of an international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged human rights violations in the face of reports of escalating violence in Libya. The Arab League, African Union, and the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference condemned the violence. The UN General Assembly suspended Libya’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council as of March 1.
Under the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, the UN Security Council can refer a situation in any country (even a non signatory state) to the ICC prosecutor under its Chapter VII mandate if it determines that a situation constitutes a threat to the maintenance of international peace and security.
This is the second time that the the UN Security Council has referred a country to the ICC. In March 2005, the Security Council passed Resolution 1593 to refer the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan. To date, the ICC has issued four arrest warrants, including two for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The ICC has also issued summonses to appear for three rebel leaders on charges related to attacks on an African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur. All three rebel leaders have voluntarily appeared in The Hague, although one case was subsequently dropped for lack of evidence. The targets of the warrants, Al-Bashir, Ahmed Haroun, and Ali Kosheib, a “Janjaweed” militia leader, remain fugitives.
(Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org)