The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on Monday for Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, one of his sons and his top intelligence official on charges of crimes against humanity.
Qaddafi and his two lieutenants are accused of planning and carrying out attacks on civilians in the immediate wake of the uprising that led to the ongoing NATO bombing campaign.
The court said that Qaddafi and his son, Seif Islam Qaddafi, plotted to suppress all civilian dissent and that their policy was carried out by Qaddafi’s brother in law and intelligence chief Abdullah Sanoussi, reports the New York Times.
The ruling came after a 30-minute hearing in The Hague, where a panel of three pre-trial judges weighed the charges detailed in a lengthy report submitted to the court last month by its chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
The charges are limited to a 10-day period at the outset of the protests and do not include any actions taken during the full-scale battle that later erupted between Qaddafi’s government and rebel forces.
The arrest warrants turn the three men into internationally wanted suspects, but there remain plenty of questions concerning how the court might gain custody of the men.
Libya is not among the 115 countries that recognize the ICC’s authority, and government officials there have already said they would disregard any actions by the court.
Still, the warrants carry plenty of weight because the investigation that led to the charges was unanimously ordered b the U.N. Security Council. The charges could also put Qaddafi’s allies in Uganda and Venezuela (members of the ICC) in an awkward position if the Libyan leader requests refuge in their countries, the Associated Press reports.
For their part, Libyan rebels welcomed the news and downplayed the notion that there was ever a chance that Qaddafi would leave peacefully.
"The people feel vindicated by such a response,” rebel council spokesman Jalal al-Galal told Reuters. “Qaddafi was never inclined to leave Libya in the first place. He's buying time and holding out in his territory for as long as he can. This will only hasten the departure of Qaddafi and his regime."