ICC debates where Qaddafi's son should be tried

A February 26, 2011 file photo of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, being interviewed in Tripoli. MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

THE HAGUE, Netherlands Libya insisted Tuesday that it should be allowed to prosecute one of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's sons, telling international judges that trying him at home will be "a unique opportunity for national reconciliation."

Libyan lawyer Ahmed al-Jehani spoke at the start of a two-day hearing at the International Criminal Court that will go a long way to deciding where Seif al-Islam Qaddafi will be put on trial for crimes against humanity — in Libya or The Hague.

Seif al-Islam is charged by the international court with crimes against humanity for his alleged involvement in the deadly crackdown on dissent against his father's rule.

Where he ends up being tried is not only a matter of national importance to Libya's new rulers. It's also of huge consequence to Seif al-Islam himself: 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.

Prosecutors in The Hague who originally indicted Seif al-Islam last year now also believe Libya should be given the chance to try him.

Prosecution lawyer Sara Criscitelli told judges, "We are confident that Libya is interested in prosecuting these crimes and this offender."

While prosecutors and judges are both part of the court, they operate independently of one another and judges do not have to follow the prosecutor's advice.

Libyan authorities who captured Seif al-Islam last year insist that the international tribunal's own rules allow them to try Seif al-Islam.

Under the Hague-based court's founding statute, it can only step in if a country where crimes were committed is unable or unwilling to prosecute, a legal principle called complementarity.

Court-appointed defense lawyers for Seif al-Islam have cast doubt on whether the fledgling legal system set up in the aftermath of the collapse of Qaddafi's four-decade dictatorship can give Qaddafi's son a fair trial.