Mon, Jun 20, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Qaddafi war crimes files being safekept in Misrata

FORESIGHT:Lawyers have asked rebel fighters to preserve documents they find, among which have been found that pro-government troops were ‘ordered to starve Misrata’

The Guardian, MISRATA, Libya

A man carries pieces of rocket fired from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that hit a house in Misrata, Libya, on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Thousands of documents that reveal in chilling detail orders from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s senior generals to bombard and starve the people of Misrata have been gathered by war crimes investigators and are being kept at a secret location at the besieged Libyan port.

The vital documents will form damning evidence in any future war crimes trial of the Libyan leader at the International Crminal Court (ICC). The court’s prosecutors are expected to travel to the city to view the documents once the daily bombardments have ceased.

One document shows the commanding general of government forces instructing his units to starve Misrata’s population during the four-month siege. The order, from Youssef Ahmed Basheer Abu Hajar, states bluntly: “It is absolutely forbidden for supply cars, fuel and other services to enter the city of Misrata from all gates and checkpoints.”

Another document instructs army units to hunt down wounded rebel fighters, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Plans to bombard the city and terrorize the population are also in the archive, said investigators, who also said they have a message from Qaddafi relayed to the troops ordering that Misrata be obliterated and the “blue sea turned red” with the blood of the inhabitants.

The documents are expected to form a crucial element of any trial against Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi if, as is expected, ICC judges confirm indictments for war crimes and crimes against humanity that are demanded by ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

They represent a landmark in international justice because no significant war crimes trial in the short history of international courts has had access to documents directly implicating the lead players in the commission of war crimes.

“From what we have here, the case is already proved,” said Khalid Alwafi, a Misrata war crimes investigator. “All the evidence is here. Signed and stamped.”

The documents have yet to be revealed to the ICC, according to the 60-strong team of Libyan lawyers who brave daily shelling to collect evidence from the city.

“We are ready to show them to the ICC,” Alwafi said. “They are free to contact us.”

The fierce shellfire that has pounded Misrata since late February has kept ICC investigators away and the indictments so far requested deal with crimes elsewhere in Libya.

The documents were saved when lawyers supporting the rebellion told protesters who broke into army bases and police stations to protect the buildings against arson. Elsewhere in the rebel-held parts of Libya, such buildings have been completely destroyed along with their contents.

Government forces who surrender to the rebels are searched and any documents they carry are preserved in case they can be used as evidence.

Alwafi said on Saturday that he believed Qaddafi’s forces had not been ordered to destroy documents because they had not expected to be overrun.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, the former lead prosecutor of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague, said: “When the citizens of Misrata made the decision not to burn the archive left to them, they were certainly serving history well.”

In a sign of the growing desperation felt by Libya’s opposition, Ali Tarhouni, the rebel finance and oil minister, said on Saturday that they had almost run out of cash.

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