ICC issues Qaddafi warrant: Key prosecutions of world leaders

The International Criminal Court issued international arrest warrants today for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi, charging them with crimes against humanity in the early weeks of Libya's uprising. It is only the second-ever international arrest warrant for a sitting head of state and the inquiry that preceded it was one of only a handful into crimes committed by world leaders. Below, a look at prosecution of current and past world leaders:

Muammar Qaddafi, Libya

The ICC judge presiding over the Libya case said today that there were "reasonable grounds" to hold Mr. Qaddafi, his son, and his intelligence chief responsible for "killing, injuring, and imprisoning hundreds of civilians" between Feb. 18 and Feb. 28, The New York Times reported. According to the court, Qaddafi introduced a policy "aimed at deterring and quelling by any means, including by the use of force, the demonstrations of civilians against the regime," BBC News reports.

However, Qaddafi could remain free indefinitely – Libya does not recognize the ICC's jurisdiction and therefore doesn't have to comply with the court's orders. To be arrested, he would have to travel to one of the 115 countries that does recognize the court or the Libyan rebels would have to capture him and release him to one of those countries. Another option – albeit unlikely – is to revise NATO's mission in Libya to include the capture of the three men, the Times reports.

Slobodan Milošević, Serbia

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1993 to investigate war crimes that took place during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. It was the first international court established by the UN and the first international court since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials into World War II crimes.

The ICTY has charged more than 160 people and convicted more than 60 for war crimes. The most high-profile case was former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević, the first European head of state to be indicted. His alleged crimes spanned over three countries – Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia – and in Bosnia it included charges of genocide. A Guardian obituary described him as Europe’s “chief menace” and said his actions embodied the “dark side” of the continent.

Mr. Milošević was never sentenced because he died in 2006 while in detention at the Hague, although dozens of those who worked with him were either charged or are still awaiting court decision

Charles Taylor, Liberia

In 2000, the UN and Sierra Leone established the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a hybrid court able to prosecute both international and domestic crimes in the country. More than a dozen people have been investigated for violations of international humanitarian law during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, but one case stands out among all the others – that of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, Sierra Leone’s neighbor. He was accused of providing support for the rebel movement that stoked the 1991-2002 civil war, receiving diamonds in exchange.

Mr. Taylor was indicted in 2003 on 11 counts, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, sexual violence, and use of child soldiers. In February, he boycotted the final days of proceedings. It was only the latest twist in a bizarre and drawn-out trial that has included Shakespearean monologues from Mr. Taylor along with testimonies from British supermodel Naomi Campbell and American actor-activist Mia Farrow.

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state (Qaddafi is the second) to be indicted by the International Crimnal Court – in his case, for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide carried out during the conflict in Darfur, which began in 2003.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo first requested an arrest warrant in 2008 and it was finally issued – for crimes against humanity and war crimes – in March 2009. A second warrant was issued in July 2010 for genocide. However, Mr. Bashir has denied the accusations and continues to travel regionally, evading arrest. All ICC signatories are obligated to respect the warrant, and some leaders have warned him that they would be legally bound to arrest him should he visit.

Khmer Rouge, Cambodia

Like Sierra Leone, Cambodia received UN backing to form a special hybrid court within its own borders – bringing justice closer to home, but also opening the tribunal to allegations of political interference. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is trying former Khmer Rouge officials who ruled the country from 1975 to 1979, when some 2 million Cambodians died of starvation, disease, and execution.

The first trial of a Khmer Rouge official, Kaing Guek Eav, began in 2009 for charges of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and domestic crimes of homicide and torture. In July 2010 he was sentenced to 19 years in prison – a sentence many Cambodians thought was far too lenient. Four more former Khmer Rouge officials are in court this week.