By Nadine Dahan
There is a warrant out for the arrest of Mahmoud al-Werfalli, who is accused of war crimes, but he has remained at large for nearly a year.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has called upon Libyan authorities to surrender military commander Mahmoud al-Werfalli, who is accused of war crimes including mass executions and summary killings.
Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Werfalli, along with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Al-Tuhamy Khaled, has yet to be handed over to the court.
Despite the warrant out for his arrest, she said there are now “credible allegations” that he has committed further murders which may also be prosecuted as war crimes, she said.
“The Libyan people deserve answers,” Bensouda said, adding that suspects cannot continue to be “sheltered”.
Werfalli, a special forces commander, served in the Al-Saiqa Brigade, an elite force within military leader Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA).
The warrant for Werfalli, which the ICC issued in August, accuses him of directing or participating in a series of executions of 33 prisoners between June 2016 and July 2017 in the eastern city of Benghazi and the surrounding areas.
The war crimes charge against Werfalli is based on seven separate incidents of executions which were documented in seven separate pieces of video footage included in the ICC warrant.
After the ICC said it was seeking Werfalli’s arrest in August, the LNA announced that it was investigating him and had detained him, although his whereabouts remained unclear.
Since then, Werfalli has remained at large. In January, fresh footage emerged which showed him carrying out summary executions.
The footage appeared to show the executions taking place in front of Benghazi’s Bayaat al-Radwaan mosque, after a twin bombing on 23 January left at least 37 people dead.
“The case of Werfalli demonstrates the crucial importance of the timely arrest and surrender of individuals subject to ICC arrest warrants,” Bensouda said.
Guma el-Gumaty told Middle East Eye that if Haftar was respecting international law, he would hand Werfalli over. “But we know that Haftar has actually encouraged and allowed the perpetration of war crimes in a blatant violation of international law,” Gumaty said.
Some analysts have said it is unlikely that Werfalli will ever be tried at the Hague.
Mattia Toaldo, former policy fellow in the European Council on Foreign Relation’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, told MEE last September: “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.”
Last March, LNA members were alleged to have killed starving residents of a besieged neighbourhood in 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.
In her comments to the UN on Wednesday, Bensouda also outlined her intention to apply for further arrest warrants against other suspects in the future.
Nadine Dahan is a British-Libyan journalist based in London, with a special interest in North Africa and post-colonialist theories.