It was after 8:00 p.m. on Saturday night this past weekend, when the 15 UN Security Council members convened to take decisive, swift, and strong action against the ongoing repression in Libya.
The council passed a resolution that, among other things, referred the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. It is important to emphasize that Resolution 1970 was passed unanimously by the council, meaning not only did the United States, China, and Russia support it, but other countries around the world, including in Africa and the Middle East, did as well.
This historic resolution “deplor[ed] the gross and systematic violations of human rights” committed in Libya since February 15 against the civilian population, which it considered may amount to crimes against humanity. It invited the ICC prosecutor to address the council within two months and urged all states, even those not party to the Rome Statute, to cooperate fully with the court and the prosecutor.
The council recognized that the events in Libya constitute a threat to international peace and security. In addition to the ICC referral, it imposed an arms embargo on the country and, significantly, a travel ban and an assets freeze for certain individuals. In two separate annexes, sixteen people were named in the travel ban, and six had their assets frozen. President Muammar Qaddafi, and several of his children, were amongst these.
The Security Council’s actions against the president of Libya further legitimize the charges brought by the ICC prosecutor against Omar Hassan al-Bashir, president of Sudan, in 2010. As recognized by the international community, when leaders violate international laws and commit heinous atrocities against innocent civilians, including their own citizens, they can be held accountable for these crimes. Bashir has been charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
Notably, UN Security Council Resolution 1593, which referred Sudan to the ICC, made no direct mention of Bashir. The new referral, Resolution 1970, explicitly cites Qaddafi in two of its annexes. The Security Council is clearly highlighting the head of state as a culpable figure, an unprecedented implication.
When—not if, but when—Muammar Qaddafi is investigated, indicted, arrested, and transferred to the ICC for trial for crimes against humanity committed against his own people, it will be an enormous victory for justice worldwide, as well as a signal. Other leaders worldwide will finally realize the ICC isn’t simply for their subordinates.