The International Criminal Court asked Libyan authorities Thursday to explain widespread reports that they plan to put one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons and the slain dictator's former spy chief on trial next month.
The request was the latest move in a long-running legal saga over where Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and Abdullah al-Senoussi will stand trial — at the world's first permanent international war crimes tribunal in The Hague or in their home country.
Both men have been indicted by the ICC on crimes against humanity charges for allegedly targeting civilians in brutal attempts to put down the 2011 rebellion that toppled Moammar Gadhafi's four-decade dictatorship. But both Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and Al-Senoussi remain in custody in Libya.
ICC judges preparing for their possible trial in The Hague asked Libyan justice officials to explain their plans following reports earlier this month which said the men's trials are scheduled to start in February. The request also came a day after Ben Emmerson, a British lawyer representing Al-Senoussi, asked the court to order Libya to suspend "the commencement of any trial proceedings in the national courts."
Emmerson said Libya has an international legal obligation to turn over Al-Senoussi to the ICC based on a United Nations Security Council resolution. He also warned that his client's trial in Libya would "inevitably constitute a flagrant denial of justice, and may result in the imposition and carrying into effect of the death penalty."
The Libyan government has asked the Hague-based court for approval to put Seif al-Islam on trial in Libya, but has not made such a request since taking Al-Senoussi into custody last year.
The ICC is a court of last resort, meaning it takes over cases from nations unwilling or unable to put suspects on trial. Human rights groups have cast doubt on the Libyan judicial system's ability to give former members of the Gadhafi regime a fair trial.
Libya is not a member of the ICC, however it is legally bound to cooperate with it because the Security Council ordered the court to open an investigation in Libya.
Moammar Gadhafi also was indicted by the court in 2011 for crimes against humanity, but the case was dropped after he was killed by rebels as his regime crumbled.