Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seif al-Islam Gaddafi Being Held by Rebels Outside Tripoli, HRW Says

December 21, 2011

Qaddafi Son Being Held by Rebels, Rights Group Says

New York Times

TRIPOLI, Libya — Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, the son and presumed heir of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, is alive and well and being held by a rebel militia outside the Libyan capital, according to an American human rights organization that was granted rare access to him. But the group said that Mr. Qaddafi had been denied access to legal counsel as he awaited trial on charges of crimes against humanity.

No date has been set for his trial, nor is it clear whether he will be tried in Libya, whose justice system is in disarray, or by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The international court issued a warrant for his arrest in June, but the Libyan authorities are insisting that he be tried on Libyan soil.

A representative of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, saw Mr. Qaddafi on Sunday in the mountain town of Zintan southwest of the capital, where he has been held since he was captured on Nov. 19. Fred Abrahams, a researcher for the group, said that he had met with Mr. Qaddafi in private for 30 minutes, and that the Zintan fighters were treating their captive “with care.” Still, Mr. Abrahams said, Mr. Qaddafi complained of “total isolation” from his family and said he wanted to see a lawyer but had so far been denied access to one.

“The new Libya should be about giving prisoners and detainees their rights,” Mr. Abrahams said. “They should give him the rights that his father denied to Libyans for so long. That would be a legal and moral victory for the new Libyan authorities, to say, ‘We will not behave like you.’ ”

Though friends and supporters have not been allowed to visit Mr. Qaddafi, several high-ranking officials in Libya’s interim government have been to see him. They include the country’s general prosecutor, a former justice minister and Prime Minister Abdel Rahim el-Keeb, whom Mr. Qaddafi dismissed as “the so-called prime minister” during their meeting, Mr. Abrahams said.

Rumors have circulated about the treatment of Mr. Qaddafi at the hands of the Zintan fighters, who were believed to be resisting efforts by the central government to take over his case. The office of the general prosecutor in Tripoli, Abdelaziz al-Hasadi, has jurisdiction, and gave Human Rights Watch clearance to visit Mr. Qaddafi. Mr. Abrahams was then taken to Zintan, where militia commanders appeared to be cooperating with the central authorities.

Mr. Abrahams said the arrangement showed how the situation in Libya was still evolving. “It is not accurate to say he is being held by a militia outside of government control, although it is not true that he is in a prison directly controlled by the government, either,” he said.

Officials said the prosecutor planned two parallel investigations of Mr. Qaddafi, one into corruption before the Libyan revolution and the other into crimes committed during the conflict. The first is under way, they said, but it was not clear when the second would begin. Abdul Majid Saad, Libya’s deputy general prosecutor, said Mr. Qaddafi would be allowed to have a lawyer as soon as he could hire one, though considering the way his family is viewed in the country, finding a willing lawyer may not be easy.

“Seif al-Islam can have a local or an international lawyer, and they can come make sure the procedures we use will all be fair, and that can happen starting now,” Mr. Saad said. “Today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. It depends on Seif al-Islam.”

Human rights activists say that the legal process for trying more than 8,000 prisoners accused of fighting for the Qaddafi government is opaque, with no trial dates set; they say none of the prisoners have access to a lawyer.

“The authorities think they can be held there and just wait forever,” said Nasser Jerrari, director of the Hope Association, a local rights organization. “There are many innocent people in jail as well.”

Mr. Abrahams of Human Rights Watch said that Mr. Qaddafi had no complaints about the conditions of his detention. “He said the food was good, he’s being treated well and he’s getting proper medical care,” Mr. Abrahams said. That care included the amputation of parts of Mr. Qaddafi’s right thumb and right index finger, Mr. Abrahams said, adding that Mr. Qaddafi told him that he was injured in a NATO airstrike on his convoy in Wadi Zimzim, outside the town of Bani Walid, which killed 26 of his associates, and that a doctor operated on his hand in Zintan in the last week of November.

Rebel militias have emerged as influential power brokers in postwar Libya, and fighters from the town of Zintan rank among the most powerful. In addition to holding Mr. Qaddafi, they have claimed the important task of administering and protecting Tripoli International Airport, and a representative from the town is the defense minister.

Tuesday was the deadline set by the transitional government for out-of-town militias to leave Tripoli, where they had been staking out turf and skirmishing with one another since the Qaddafi forces were driven out in August. Few militia commanders appeared to have complied. Mokhtar al-Akhdar, the commander of the Zintan fighters at the airport, said the postwar Libyan state was still too weak. “If the government has good people to secure the airport, then we will hand it over and go home,” he said. “But they cannot even control the border with Tunisia. If we give the government the airport, they will destroy it.”

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