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More calls for release of Australian lawyer and other ICC staff in Libya

A UN war crimes court has expressed its serious concern over the ongoing detention of four staff members.

The exterior of the ICC.
The exterior of the ICC.
Image: Peter Dejong/AP/Press Association Images

THE PRESIDENT OF the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has expressed his “serious concern” over the ongoing detention of four staff members of its sister tribunal in Libya.

Four lawyers from the International Criminal Court have been detained in Zintan for the past six days, something which Judge Theodor Meron called “unacceptable”.

“The visit of the four staff members had been ordered by an ICC Pre-Trial Chamber and that order should be fully respected,” he said in a statement this afternoon. “I wish to join the ICC President in urging the immediate release of the ICC staff members.”

A delegation from the ICC and an Australian diplomat have eventually been allowed to visit their colleagues after being prevented from doing so earlier. Libyan prosecutors say they can detain Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor and Lebanese-born interpreter Helene Assaf and their two male colleagues for up to 45 days as they investigate allegations that documents were given to Muammar Gaddafi’s son.

The ICC delegation were initially sent to Libya to help Saif al-Islam choose a defence lawyer as he faces war crimes charges.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Taylor is also accused of carrying a pen camera and attempting to give Saif al-Islam a coded letter from a former aide who is on the run.

One of the Libyan prosecutors said that the lawyers are in a guesthouse and are being “treated well”. An Australian diplomat called the facilities “generally adequate”.

In a statement today, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the ambassador-delegate to Libya David Ritchie had met with Taylor for 90 minutes.

“The Ambassador examined the conditions of the prison and reported they were generally adequate. He said Ms Taylor appeared to be well and in reasonable spirits given the circumstances.

“Australia’s position is for Melinda Taylor to be released immediately, ” he added. “As a representative of the ICC, Ms Taylor and her colleagues were doing the important work of the court and are entitled to immunity.”

The ICTY and the Australian government both noted that the Libyan government has a legal obligation to cooperate with the ICC and facilitate its mission in Libya.

Taylor’s family have also issued a statement calling for their daughter’s release. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, John and Janelle Taylor said they understood the strong feelings against someone accused of war crimes but asked for the Libyan people to “rise above this”.

A request by Ritchie to allow Taylor to talk to her husband was denied by authorities.

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