THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court told Libyan authorities Wednesday to surrender former dictator Moammar Gadhafi's son — wanted by the permanent tribunal for crimes against humanity.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi was arrested in November by rebel fighters in Libya's remote southern desert while trying to flee to neighboring Niger, and has been held largely without access to the outside world since then.
He was indicted in June along with his father and the Gadhafi regime's intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi for killing and persecuting civilians in the early days of the uprising that eventually brought down Gadhafi's four-decade dictatorship.
Libyan authorities say they plan to put Seif on trial, and — despite requests from The Hague — have so far taken no action to hand him over.
In a written ruling published Wednesday, judges at the court rejected a request by Libya to postpone handing over Seif and urged the country's rulers to "proceed immediately with the surrender."
Human Rights Watch urged Libya to act on the order.
"The court has issued its order. It is imperative that Libyan authorities start preparing to surrender Seif al-Islam," said Liz Evenson, senior counsel with the group's International Justice Program. "This is what cooperation with the court means."
Seif's father also was indicted by the court but was killed by rebel fighters in October.
Prosecutors were praised for their swift action last year in indicting Gadhafi, Seif and al-Senoussi, but the court's efforts to mete out justice in Libya have been stymied by Gadhafi's death, Libya's refusal to surrender Seif, and uncertainty over the fate of al-Senoussi, who was arrested in Mauritania last month.
Libya has said it also wants to try al-Senoussi, and France wants to put him on trial for the 1989 bombing of a French airliner.
Libyan authorities have told the International Criminal Court they plan to challenge its jurisdiction in the case, but judges say until that challenge is filed the authorities in Tripoli remain under obligation to surrender Seif.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's chief prosecutor, told The Associated Press Wednesday that "the good thing here is one year ago Seif Gadhafi was threatening people ... now he's arrested and the court is discussing his destiny."
"The fact that the court is ruling, and Libyans — I'm sure they will accept it or appeal or debate it — but they will engage the court to have the court make the final decision. So that is showing how the world changes in 10 years."
Moreno-Ocampo said his office is still investigating reports of massive rapes in Libya during the uprising.
"We have some evidence connecting some individuals in power with the rapes, and we intend to consolidate this case ... (and) keep investigating," he said in an interview at his office near U.N. headquarters in New York. "When we are ready, we will go to the judges."
As for al-Senoussi, Moreno-Ocampo noted that Mauritania is not a party to the ICC and said: "Now it's in Mauritania's hands. They have to decide."
The Hague-based tribunal is a court of last resort, set up to prosecute the most senior perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in countries unwilling or unable to put them on trial.
Libya is not the only country where the ICC, which has no police force of its own, is struggling to get its hands on suspects. Judges have issued arrest warrants for 20 suspects — all of them from Africa — but has only five of them in its detention unit.
Among the court's most wanted suspects are Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide in his country's Darfur region, and Joseph Kony, the leader of Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army.
Kony, the first suspect indicted by the court, has become a household name in recent weeks after a video aiming to raise his profile went viral online.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.