An official with the US-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about the lack of access to legal counsel for the imprisoned sons of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and members of his former regime.
This comes as the long-awaited trial of Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, his brother al-Saadi, former Gaddafi intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, along with dozens of other former Gadhafi officials was to begin Monday in Tripoli.
They are charged with war crimes allegedly committed during the 2011 uprising that toppled the former dictator.
Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, says access to an attorney is an essential part of a fair trial.
“From the interviews we had with at least two of the accused – Saif al-Islam and Abdullah al-Senussi – they informed Human Rights Watch that they did not have access to lawyers. So, it’s a cause of real concern that a trial could get underway without the defendants having had internationally guaranteed rights to a lawyer respected,” he said.
Dicker also said the security vacuum in Libya today poses a threat to all judicial employees involved with the case.
“It creates a situation of insecurity for all of the judicial personnel – the lawyers, the judges, etc. But, in particular, it creates a potentially very dangerous situation for those defense lawyers and those witnesses who might be appearing on behalf of the defendants to give testimony,” Dicker said.
He said the fact that Saif al-Islam is not in the custody of the central government in Tripoli makes it even more dangerous.
“The lack of custody over Saif al-Islam Gaddafi I think complicates the picture or prospect of their trial to a great degree,” Dicker said.
Dicker said unlike Ivory Coast - which met its international legal obligation by handing over to the International Criminal Court former President Laurent Gbagbo and former Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude - Libya must surrender Saif al-Islam and Senussi to the ICC.
“Indeed, if Libya is to move beyond the era of lawlessness associated with Moammar Gadhafi, it is essential that the government cooperate and adhere to its legal obligations, including surrendering Saif al-Islam Gadhafi and Abdullah al-Senussi to the court in The Hague,” Dicker said.