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Rights lawyers seek ICC probe into Libyan military leader

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Human rights lawyers presented evidence Tuesday to International Criminal Court prosecutors alleging that forces loyal to a key player in Libya's ongoing power struggle are responsible for crimes including murder, torture and persecution.

The filing is the latest account of atrocities committed in the fighting that has plagued Libya since Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in 2011.

Toby Cadman of the Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers presented to the court a dossier, including witness statements, seeking an investigation into the role of Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter and his forces in the alleged abuses. Hifter leads forces in eastern Libya who are loyal to an eastern parliament but at odds with U.N.-backed authorities in Tripoli.

A spokesman for Hifter could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cadman's organization said in a statement that there are "credible reports, underpinned by first-hand evidence that individuals within the chain of command have, and continue to commit war crimes and/or crimes against humanity in their pursuit of power."

The ICC already has an investigation underway in Libya that has identified alleged crimes by one of Hifter's subordinates. The court's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told the United Nations Security Council last week that investigations in the country will be a priority for her office in 2018.

"Reports indicate widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law being perpetrated by different parties to the conflict," Bensouda said. "Often, the victims are civilians."

The ICC issued an arrest warrant in August for Mahmoud al-Warfalli, who heads an anti-terrorism unit under Hifter. Al-Warfalli, who has not yet been sent to the ICC, allegedly was involved in the killing of 33 captives in "cold blood" earlier this year.

Libya collapsed into lawlessness after Gadhafi was overthrown and killed. Since then, real power has been in the hands of an array of unruly militias, many of which have been implicated in human rights violations.

Hifter, who commands a self-styled national army that is battling Islamic militants in the east, is allied with a government based in the east and supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

In July, Fayez Sarraj, the designated prime minister of Libya's internationally recognized government in the west, met Hifter in Paris and both men committed to a cease-fire.

Cadman said that Hifter's role in seeking peace should not be allowed to stand in the way of a possible prosecution.

"We would argue that he is one of the destabilizing forces in Libya," Cadman said.

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