Libyan Arms
Rebel army officers fix weapons taken from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at a workshop in Benghazi REUTERS

Could the situation in Libya become any more complicated? The conflict which opposes Col Gaddafi to the rebel fighters and Nato is now threatening to turn into a real legal quagmire as all parties are accused to breaking the law in one way or another.

As in March, after rumours surfaced that Nato forces were considering arming the rebel fighters, the UN had to publicly reaffirm that such an initiative would break the UN embargo, new allegations have emerged, which indicate that the rebels are smuggling weapons through Tunisia. While the origin of the weapons remains for now unclear, the news agency Reuters had revealed a month ago that the rebel fighters had been able to obtain weapons from Qatar through Tunisia.

Officially however the country is still under the UN resolution 1970, which imposes an arms embargo.

UN Arms embargo against Libya

"9. Decides that all Member States shall immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from or through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, and technical assistance, training, financial or other assistance, related to military activities or the provision, maintenance or use of any arms and related materiel, including the provision of armed mercenary personnel whether or not originating in their territories, and decides further that this measure shall not apply to:

"11. Calls upon all States, in particular States neighbouring the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, to inspect, in accordance with their national authorities and legislation and consistent with international law, in particular the law of the sea and relevant international civil aviation agreements, all cargo to and from the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, in their territory, including seaports and airports, if the State concerned has information that provides reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains items the supply, sale, transfer, or export of which is prohibited by paragraphs 9 or 10 of this resolution for the purpose of ensuring strict implementation of those provisions;

"13. Requires any Member State when it undertakes an inspection pursuant to paragraph 11 above, to submit promptly an initial written report to the Committee containing, in particular, explanation of the grounds for the inspections, the results of such inspections, and whether or not cooperation was provided, and, if prohibited items for transfer are found, further requires such Member States to submit to the Committee, at a later stage, a subsequent written report containing relevant details on the inspection, seizure, and disposal, and relevant details of the transfer, including a description of the items, their origin and intended destination, if this information is not in the initial report;

Various organisations supported the move from the UN to stop members' countries from arming the rebels directly as they understood that Libya is already awash with weaponry.

CAAT, the Campaign Against Arms Trade, even went further by insisting that most of the weapons had been supplied to Gaddafi by European countries." In 2009 Libya was sold weapons worth €343 million by European Union states and these countries, including the UK, continued to promote, exhibit and sell weapons in 2001", one of their statements reads.

While most organisations agreed that adding further weaponry would make Libya even more armed and dangerous they also inisted on the fact that there is no guarantee that arms reaching rebel forces would be used to protect civilians .

In opposition hands more arms would run the risk of making the situation of civilians even more perilous.

Following the announcement last month that the ICC was investigating accusations of the rebels fighters violating basic human rights and were detaining migrant workers, mainly from Africa, illegally, these concerns are still very much of actuality. It will thus be interesting to see if the UN will further investigate the allegations that Qatar could be arming the rebels directly as well as re-call for all members to rerspect the embargo.

As in the last few weeks the Nato operation has also focused more on bombardenments in Tripoli, with a special interest in tageting Gaddafi's properties, the Alliance has been heavily criticised for conducting a mission that shifted its main focus from protecting civilians to going after Gaddafi himself.

Now it seems that the same question can be raised regarding the arms embargo as it is once again not clear whether the prohibition mainly concerns Gaddafi and his forces or the whole country as the UN statement originally seem to indicate.

As the legimicay of the NATO intervention and their bombing campaign is still debated, Muammar Gaddafi's daughter has last week, according to various media sources, filed a war crimes lawsuit in Belgium over the April 30 NATO attack on the Libyan leader's compound, in which her infant daughter, brother and two nephews were allegedly killed.

Aisha Gaddafi reportedly filed the complaint under Belgium's "universal competence" law, as war crimes or genocide suits can be brought against foreign leaders, as long as a connection can be established between Belgium and the defendant.

"We think that bombing a civilian home where a man and three children were living is not part of the mandate given to the members of the United Nations by the Security Council resolutions on Libya, " Luc Brossolet, a French lawyer acting for Aisha Gaddafi, told Belgium's Le Soir newspaper.

He also added that "The fact that NATO has its seat in the Belgian capital is enough to place the military alliance under Belgian jurisdiction,"

NATO on the other hand still insist it did nothing wrong as it is bombing Gadhafi's "command and control centres: - including the Bab al-Aziziya compound - to prevent the government from plotting attacks against civilians, in line with its UN mandate."

However as law expert Francois Dubuisson from Brussels' Free University (ULB) told Le Soir, as an international organization, NATO "enjoys immunity from prosecution."

NATO however is not the only party accused of war crimes as ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo revealed last week that rape was likely to be added to the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity that the leader is already facing.

Interestingly, nearly four months into the conflict and all party have been accused of breaking the law and of course, all parties deny any wrong-doing. It will be interesting to see what will the UN reaction, if any, to the rebels smuggling arms be. Unauthorised and illegal weaponry smuggling in Africa constitutes one of the continent main issues. Sierra Leone and Liberia stand as illustrations of the disastrous effect arms smuggling can have. Nothing certifies that those arms will not end up hurting more civilians, and what will happen to the weapons once the conflict is ended, will they be illegally resold and smuggled to other neighbouring countries? With Chad and Sudan sharing borders with Libya, let us hope that neither violence nor armament will spread further into the region.