An International Criminal Court arrest warrant for a Libyan militia leader issued in August has raised questions about whether the accused’s highest commander – Khalifa Haftar – is also potentially guilty of war crimes.
Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli – a member of Haftar’s Libyan National Army – is alleged to have participated in, or ordered, the execution of prisoners between June 2016 and July 2017.
However, according to a recent report by US security forum Just Security, video footage has emerged that could have investigators pursue Haftar similar crimes.
Haftar is a Gaddafi-era general who leads an armed force that previously worked in direct opposition Libya’s UN-recognised government.
Through military success, the general has marked himself as a key player in Libya, having also received backing from Egypt, the UAE and tacit support from Russia.
A peace deal between Libya’s rival factions also saw the country’s UN-backed government reluctantly concede that the military strongman could be allowed to retain his forces if he recognised their authority.
While this has somewhat raised his international credibility, accusations of war crimes have long tarnished the general’s record.
‘Take no prisoners’
In one video purportedly from 18 September 2015, a voice allegedly to be Haftar’s is heard telling LNA fighters to “never mind [the] consideration of bringing a prisoner here. There is no prison here. The field is the field, end of the story”.
The alleged command could contravene international laws that ban summary executions.
The purported date of the video roughly corresponds with the launch of ‘Operation Doom’ against the Islamic State group.
If Haftar’s words were heeded, it may be possible that al-Werfalli, the target of the ICC warrant, allegedly partook in summary executions under this order.
‘Blockade means choking’
In another video, which is related to the LNA’s tightening of the siege on Derna in August 2017, Haftar is purportedly encouraging the “choking” of the city in order to force capitulation.
“The blockade means choking (or strangling). There is no medicine, there is no medical care, or I don’t know what, no petrol, no [cooking] oil,” Haftar says. “These issues, my brothers, we talk about them clearly. We have shut down everything until we get to a point where there is no longer a solution at all.”
Further investigation into Haftar’s statements could bring about a criminal prosecution against the Libyan strongman, particluarly as the alleged crimes committed by his troops have already been documented, including by rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Confirmation of possible war crimes would further tarnish the reputations of Haftar’s international backers, including Egypt, which announced on Tuesday that it would be hosting a reorganisation of Haftar’s military force.