Muammar Gaddafi

21.04.2016 ( Last modified: 09.06.2016 )
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Muammar Gaddafi was born on 19 June 1942 into a family that belonged to a small tribe of Arab Berbers in the desert near Sirte, Libya. In his youth he admired Egyptian leader and Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser. Gaddafi has two wives and eight children.

In 1961 Gaddafi entered the Libyan Military Academy in Benghazi where he met most of his future comrades-in-arms from the Revolutionary Command Council. He received further military training in the United Kingdom and Greece.

On 1 September 1969 he organized a bloodless military coup d’etat and managed to topple King Idris I who was on a state visit to Turkey. Gaddafi established the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and gave himself to the rank of Colonel to emphasize that Libyan society is ruled by the people and that there was no need for him to carry a grandiose title.

Since the revolution, Gaddafi established a system of authoritarian rule based on his own political philosophy as set forth in the “Green Book” which included the prohibition of a multi-party system, restrictions on dissidence and even the policy of killing opposition leaders. Gaddafi also openly financed international terrorism but has subsequently admitted responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks, including the 1986 bombing in a Berlin club, the Lockerbie bombing and UTA Flight 772. Gaddafi is widely considered to be a dictator.

The year 1999 was marked by the case of foreign doctors who were held responsible for infecting 438 Libyan children with AIDS. Five Bulgarian medics and one Palestinian were imprisoned and at first condemned to death. They spent eight years in prison (from February 1999 until July 2007) where they were repeatedly tortured. The nurses have complained of severe torture during police interrogation, saying they were jolted with electricity, beaten with sticks and repeatedly jumped on while strapped to their beds. Two of the women said they were raped. In 2007, thanks to the intervention of French government the doctors were extradited to Bulgaria and pardoned upon their arrival in Sofia.

In December 2007 Ashraf Joumaa al-Hajouj, the Palestinian doctor, filed a complaint with the help of the French organisation «Avocats Sans Frontières» against Muammar Gaddafi, five policemen and a Libyan doctor. The International Convention against Torture of 1984, which was ratified by France, established the principle of universal jurisdiction for prosecution of torture and hence provides France with the jurisdiction to prosecute torture complaints from other countries.

Gaddafi technically benefits from criminal immunity normally granted to heads of state. However, this reasoning may be rejected due to the fact that Gaddafi did not assume the title of Head of State, using only the classification of “Guide”. The lawsuit was, however, suspended because the Libyan authorities refused to provide information that had been requested concerning the police officers.

On 15 February 2011 a series of protests and confrontations in Libya began that led to a large popular uprising. Within a week, it spread across the country, including its capital Tripoli. Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, addressed Libyans on State television and warned the protestors that their country could descend into civil war.

Gaddafi responded with a military crackdown on protestors and civilians, and recruited foreign mercenaries to supplement his forces since the Eastern part of the country was falling under control of the rebel forces and parts of the military had defected. By the end of February the rebels had formed a government called the National Transitional Council based in Benghazi. According to information from human rights groups, Gaddafi’s forces are responsible for alleged killings in Tripoli, where 228 or more people died in air strikes; for bombings in Benghazi where some 257 people were allegedly killed; and for air strikes and attacks by security forces in the towns of Misrata, Brega, Derna, Zenten and Ajdabiya which were allegedly responsible for at least 40 deaths.

The U.N. Security Council, in a unanimous decision on 26 February 2011, instructed the International Criminal Court to conduct investigations into the Libyan crisis that was described as “widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place against the civilian population [which] may amount to crimes against humanity”. The United Nations Security Council also passed a resolution freezing the assets of Gaddafi and ten members of his inner circle and restricting their travel.


legal procedure

The U.N. Security Council, in a unanimous decision on 26 February 2011, instructed the International Criminal Court to conduct investigations into the Libyan crisis that was described as “widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place against the civilian population [which] may amount to crimes against humanity”. The United Nations Security Council also passed a resolution freezing the assets of Gaddafi and ten members of his inner circle and restricting their travel.

The ICC Prosecutor, Jose Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced within a week that he had launched an investigation and had identified several suspects. He announced an investigation into Gaddafi, three of his sons and key aides for crimes against humanity arising from the crackdown on Libya’s popular revolt.

The ICC Prosecutor emphasized that due to the fact that Libya is currently not a State Party to the Rome Statute, investigations by the ICC into the alleged crimes committed in Libya may only be conducted if the Libyan authorities accept the jurisdiction of the ICC under Art. 12(3) of the Rome Statute.

On 27 June 2011 the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Muammar Gaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam and his chief of intelligence, Abdullah Senussi, on charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and persecution. The warrants are limited to events between 18-28 February 2011, before a full-scale conflict erupted between the Qaddafi regime and rebel forces.

Muammar Gaddafi was killed on 20 October 2011.




In 1969, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi got to power and ruled the country in an autocratic regime until 2011, when anti-authoritarian protests swept through the Arab world and his government was overturned. On 15 February 2011, Libyan human rights campaigners were arrested in Benghazi (Eastern Libya), sparking clashes with security forces, which rapidly spread throughout the country resulting in an uprising against the Gaddafi regime. Many were killed and injured as the government forcefully tried to suppress the revolt. In March 2011, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and authorizing air strikes to protect civilians, of which NATO assumed command. The main opposition group, the National Transitional Council (NTC), was recognized by some Western nations as the legitimate government of Libya. In August 2011, a major offensive by the rebels enabled them to enter the capital Tripoli. Gaddafi was forced to go into hiding, while his wife and three children fled to Algeria. On 20 October 2011, Colonel Gaddafi was captured and killed. The NTC took control of the country and in August 2012, handed over power to Libya’s newly elected parliament, the General National Congress. In November 2012, the new government was sworn in and started preparing the country for a new constitution and parliamentary elections.


Many abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, such as targeting civilians or paramedics, torture and enforced disappearances, were reported during the uprising. On 25 February 2011, the Human Rights Council established the International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya. The Commission reached the conclusion that international crimes, specifically crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed in Libya by both the Government and the rebel forces.

The UN Security Council referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which sought the arrest warrant of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and intelligence chief Abdullah Al-Senussi for crimes against humanity. However, Libya’s cooperation with the ICC remains limited. In May 2012, Libya filed an admissibility challenge to the ICC’s jurisdiction requiring the pending cases to be transferred to its domestic judiciary. The ICC has yet to decide upon the referral of the cases to Libya.

In May 2013, the ICC pre-trial chamber I rejected the objection of inadmissibility regarding Al-Islam. The Court has reaffirmed its competence to judge Gaddafi’s son for crimes against humanity, arguing that current investigations by the national Libyan authorities were not covering the same facts and behaviours as those under the ICC’s mandate. Today, Libya has not made any steps towards the surrendering of Al-Islam to the Court.

In October 2013, the Court has nonetheless decided that Al-Senussi will be judged in Libya. It has indeed considered that the current investigations in front of the Libyan tribunals are in accordance with the principle of complementarity.


Challenges also arise in relation to domestic prosecutions of persons suspected of having committed crimes against humanity or war crimes. On 2 May 2012, the Libyan authorities adopted a blanket amnesty law granting immunity to former rebels who fought to oust Gaddafi’s regime. The immunity covers military, security or civilian acts undertaken by revolutionaries with the aim of ensuring the revolution’s success and its goal, thus applying to everyone from the rebel forces and for every crime. This effectively bars any prosecution of international crimes committed by the opposition and is debatable in light of the findings of the International Commission of Inquiry about the commission of international crimes by both parties.


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