Libya: United Nations Creates Long-Overdue Investigation into War Crimes

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

(Geneva) – The creation of a United Nations investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity is a critical first step towards ending the cycle of violence that has torn Libya apart, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) said today.   The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) adopted a resolution to establish the investigation on June 22, 2020 at the conclusion of its 43rd Session.

Over the last eight years Libya has become increasingly ruled by warlords and armed groups who regularly carry out brutal crimes and atrocities with almost total impunity.   Lawlessness has torn the country apart and made state institutional formation and national level accountability all but impossible.

Speaking before the Council, CIHRS highlighted that an escalation in fighting in Libya has led to a 113% increase in civilian deaths between the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, with reports of enforced disappearances, torture of detainees, use of child soldiers, summary executions, bombing of civilian homes, use of improvised explosive devices, and unlawful killings, including the recent  discovery of eight mass graves in Tarhuna.

This long-overdue investigation should put warlords and the heads of armed groups in Libya, including forces affiliated with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and with the Tripoli government, on notice,” said Jeremie Smith, Director of CIHRS in Geneva. “Evidence will be gathered, and justice pursued.”

The resolution establishing the investigation calls on the UN to “dispatch a fact finding mission” to investigate international crimes by “all parties in Libya”  in order to “preserve evidence with a view to ensuring that perpetrators of violations or abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law are held accountable.”

The adoption of the resolution, originally scheduled for March of this year, was delayed for almost three months when UN meetings were suspended due to the COVID 19 outbreak.  As a result, the Fact-Finding Mission, as currently mandated, will be faced with a highly abbreviated timeline in which to carry out its investigation, and should submit its final report to the Council in March 2021.

“We welcome the Fact Finding Mission’s creation, but it is obvious a serious, in-depth investigation will be impossible to conclude in the short period it now has to work” said Nadège Lahmar, researcher on the Maghreb region.  “UN member states must ensure the renewal of this vital tool of accountability in March of next year.  Failure to do so will embolden war criminals and weaken peace efforts.”

  • United Nations Human Rights Council, 43rd Session
  • Oral Intervention – ID on Libya, Item 10
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • 18 June 2020

Delivered by: Jeremie Smith

Thank you Madam President,

CIHRS urges members of this Council to adopt the tabled resolution A_HRC_43_L.40, establishing a fact-finding mission (FFM) to investigate and document violations and abuses of international human rights and international humanitarian law by all parties in Libya. We reiterate the need for the adjustment of reporting time frames to compensate for the delay caused by the suspension of the 43rd session, in order to allow the FFM to have at least one full year to complete its work.

Recent developments in the country only further demonstrate the urgent need to establish an independent international investigation on Libya. Over the last months, parties to the conflict have dramatically escalated fighting, leading to a 45% increase in civilian casualties and a 113% increase in civilian deaths between the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020.  Enforced disappearances, torture, desecration of corpses, summary executions, unlawful killings, the use of improvised explosive devices against civilians have been reported, along with the discovery of mass graves.

There have also been reports of retributive violence from government-affiliated forces in April and May 2020, preceded by similar attacks by the LNA. Since April 2019 until March 2020, 685 were killed and 329 injured. Between 5-8 June, at least 19 civilian deaths, including five children, and at least 12 injuries were confirmed outside the new battleground of Sirte, while the first week of June saw new waves of displacement and suffering for at least 16,000 Libyans. Scores of migrants and refugees, and more than 400,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are especially at risk of further escalation.

The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries expressed alarm yesterday at the widespread use of mercenaries and foreign fighters, including children, in breach of the UN Security Council arms embargo. As highlighted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on multiple occasions, the “inability of the justice system [in Libya] to function effectively has led to widespread impunity, particularly for violations and abuses perpetrated by armed groups.”[1]  Strengthening international forms of justice and accountability are currently the only effective and plausible means of addressing violations and abuses in Libya.

The establishment of an international investigation on Libya into such crimes is long overdue.  The time has come for this Council to act.

Thank you Madam President.

[1] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session37/Documents/A_HRC_37_46_EN.docx.

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