THE HAGUE — Libya said Tuesday that it should be allowed to prosecute one of Moammar Khadafy’s sons for crimes against humanity, but his lawyers objected, insisting the late ruler’s son cannot get a fair trial in a nation now run by those who toppled his father.
The diametrically opposed positions came at an International Criminal Court hearing that will go a long way to deciding whether Seif al-Islam Khadafy will be put on trial in Tripoli, Libya, or The Hague.
The legal tug-of-war over Khadafy also is a key test for a founding principle of the war crimes tribunal: known as ‘‘complementarity,’’ the principle states that the court can only try suspects from nations unable or unwilling to launch their own prosecutions.
ICC prosecutors charged Khadafy last year with murder and persecution for his alleged involvement in the deadly crackdown on dissidents against his father’s four-decade rule.
But months later authorities in Libya arrested Khadafy and said they want to prosecute him. Prosecutors in The Hague now say they are willing to hand the case to authorities in Tripoli.
While prosecutors and judges are both part of the court, they operate independently of one another and judges do not have to follow the prosecutors’ advice.
Where Khadafy ends up being tried is not only a matter of national importance to Libya’s new rulers. It’s also important to Khadafy : if he were to be tried and convicted in The Hague, he could face a maximum life sentence, but if a Libyan court were to find him guilty he could face the death penalty.
Libyan lawyer Ahmed al-Jehani, who represented the Libyan government at the court, pledged that Tripoli would give him a fair trial.
But one of Khadafy’s court-appointed defense lawyers said the court should not trust Libya and its fledgling justice system to mount a fair prosecution of the son and one-time heir apparent of the country’s widely reviled former leader.