Libya pressured to release ICC lawyer


FORMER GAMBIAN attorney general Fatou Bensouda will be sworn in this morning as the first African chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – as efforts continue to secure the release of a 36-year-old Australian ICC lawyer held in Libya on charges of spying.

Ms Bensouda (51), whose appointment was strongly supported by the African Union, will take over from the court’s often-controversial chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo – the first person to hold the post at the decade-old ICC – with whom she has worked as deputy chief prosecutor since 2004.

On his last day in office yesterday, Mr Moreno-Ocampo was again embroiled in controversy for allegedly telling Reuters news agency that the Libyans believed they had the right to investigate allegations against the ICC lawyer, Melinda Taylor, and her Lebanese-born interpreter, Helene Assaf, described by Libyan militia as “an accomplice”.

However, in a “clarification” yesterday, Mr Moreno-Ocampo described the Reuters story as “inaccurate” and said he shared fully the concerns of the ICC president, Judge Sang-Hyun Song, for the safety of the ICC team, who had been detained on June 7th.

A statement from his office said: “The prosecutor hopes this matter will be resolved swiftly – so that they can return quickly to their families, friends and colleagues at the court.”

Ms Taylor and Ms Assaf were arrested for allegedly smuggling documents to Saif al-Islam, imprisoned son of former dictator Muammar Gadafy, during a legal consultation. It’s claimed one of the documents was a letter from his former right-hand man, Mohammed Ismail, who is still on the run.

Libyan prosecutors say they will be held for at least 45 days while the charges are investigated.

Two other male members of the four-person ICC team, a Russian and a Spaniard, have apparently stayed voluntarily in the hill town of Zintan, 135km (84 miles) southwest of Tripoli, to support their colleagues.

Yesterday, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen joined the ICC, human rights groups and the Australian government in demanding the release of Ms Taylor, Ms Assaf and their colleagues, who were visited for the first time on Wednesday by a second ICC team and by ambassadors from their four countries.

Afterwards, Ahmed al-Jehani, a lawyer who liaises between the Libyan government and the ICC, said: “They are well. They are held in a guesthouse, not in prison. They have food, water, and are being treated well.”

Ms Taylor’s mother, Janelle Taylor, told Australian television: “All we want is the process of law to go ahead and Melinda to be released as quickly as possible.”