Mahmoud al-Werfalli is wanted by the ICC for war crimes
By Nadine Dahan
The United Nations Libya mission demanded on Thursday the immediate surrender of Mahmoud al-Werfalli after fresh footage emerged of him personally carrying out summary executions.
The special forces commander, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges, served in the Al-Saiqa Brigade, an elite force of military strongman Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA).
Video footage appearing to show Werfalli shooting dead at least nine people emerged on social media on Wednesday.
The footage appeared to show the executions taking place in front of Benghazi’s Bayaat al-Radwaan mosque, where a twin bombing on Tuesday left at least 37 people dead.
“Werfalli keeps treating the ICC and the whole world with contempt,” Libyan analyst and head of the Taghyeer Party, Guma el-Gumaty, said, speaking to Middle East Eye.
“Despite being wanted by the ICC, he continues to defy the whole world with his public brutal killings of people who have not been put in front of a court or sentenced for any crime,” he added.
Gumaty suggested that the international community should do more to “save potential future victims” and allow the ICC to hold him “accountable for the mass murder and war crimes he has committed.”
A senior Middle East analyst for the Eurasia Group said the video, if confirmed, would prove once again how Haftar and his army have a serious problem with respecting human rights and international law.
“Of course, this is not surprising,” Riccardo Fabiani told Middle East Eye. “Haftar has very little interest in democracy or human rights…
“His main supporters – Egypt and the UAE-– are also not known for their respect or interest in democracy and human rights and are unlikely to put any pressure on Haftar to correct this situation.”
The warrant for Werfalli, issued on the 15 August, accuses him of mass executions and summary killings.
Werfalli has been accused by the ICC of directing or participating in a series of executions of 33 prisoners between June 2016 and July 2017 in Benghazi and the surrounding areas.
The charge against Werfalli, murder as a war crime under Article 8(2)(c)(i) of the Rome Statute, is based on seven separate incidents of executions which were documented in seven separate pieces of video footage.
After the ICC said it was seeking Werfalli’s arrest in August, the LNA announced that it was investigating him and had detained him, though his whereabouts were unclear.
The latest footage emerged as UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, met with Haftar just outside Benghazi and condemned Tuesday’s car bombing.
In March last year, LNA members were alleged to have killed starving residents of a besieged neighbourhood in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Relatives told MEE that their family members were killed as they attempted to flee on a bus in search of food. In response, HRW called on Haftar to launch a “full and transparent investigation” into the alleged crimes.
On 28 October, two days after the bodies were discovered in al-Abyar, Haftar released a statement through an LNA spokesperson saying that he had ordered in the military prosecutor for the eastern region to investigate.
It seems unlikely that Werfalli will ever be tried at the Hague, according to Libya analyst Mattia Toaldo.
Toaldo, policy fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Middle East Eye in September last year: “I don’t see Werfalli actually being tried by the ICC anytime soon.”
“The LNA and Haftar just have to demonstrate that they are investigating him and that would already make the work of the ICC much more difficult,” Toaldo added,
Eric Goldstein, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said LNA pledges to conduct inquiries into unlawful killings “have so far led nowhere”.
Earlier this month UN envoys to Libya pushed for elections in the country later this year.
In recent months, despite concerns raised regarding Haftar’s conduct, European leaders seem to be embracing him, and he is considered a likely candidate in elections.
In August the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said he backed Haftar’s “fight against terror” a day after he visited him in Benghazi.
Haftar was also welcomed in Rome in September, where he was received by Italian officials.
Haftar has also been hosted by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris, in peace talks between himself and the leader of the GNA.
While the country remains split, with rival governments claiming authority following a disputed vote in 2014, in which turnout was just 630,000, there has been much speculation over what an election could really mean for Libyans and Haftar’s future role in the country’s leadership.
However, analysts are sceptical elections will in fact take place in that time frame.
“I personally believe that despite what the UN says we will not have elections in Libya before middle of 2019,” Gumaty told MEE.
Nadine Dahan is a British-Libyan journalist based in London, with a special interest in North Africa and post-colonialist theories.