Libya’s warring sides may be guilty of war crimes: UN probe

The Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya says migrants and detainees were particularly exposed to violations.

Europe-bound Libyans face abuse in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers, the report found [File: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters]

All sides in Libya’s conflict have committed violations that may include war crimes and crimes against humanity since 2016, a United Nations investigation has found.

The Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, said in a report published on Monday that migrants and detainees were particularly exposed to violations.

The mission’s report also found that landmines have killed or maimed many people; Europe-bound Libyans face abuse in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers; detainees languishing in horrific conditions in prison are tortured; while prominent women have been killed or have disappeared.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes have been committed in Libya, while violence perpetrated in prisons and against migrants there may amount to crimes against humanity,” the mission said in a statement.

The unrest in the North African country has had a dramatic effect on Libyans’ economic, social and cultural rights, amid attacks on hospitals and schools.

“All parties to the conflicts, including third states, foreign fighters and mercenaries, have violated international humanitarian law, in particular, the principles of proportionality and distinction, and some have also committed war crimes,” said Mohamed Auajjar, who chaired the three-person mission.

The mission said it had identified individuals and groups – both Libyan and foreign – who may bear responsibility for the violations, abuses and crimes.

The list will remain confidential until it can be shared with appropriate accountability mechanisms.

Though the Libyan judicial authorities are investigating most of the cases documented in the report, the process “faces significant challenges”, the experts said.

Libya has been in turmoil for a decade, with the last several years seeing war between forces backing rival governments based in the east and west, supported by regional powers, foreign fighters and mercenaries. Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates backed the eastern forces, while Turkey backed the government in the west.

In June 2020, the Human Rights Council – the UN’s top rights body – adopted a resolution calling for a fact-finding mission to be sent to Libya. The move had Tripoli’s support.

The experts, appointed in August last year, were charged with investigating alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed in Libya since 2016.

Auajjar was joined by fellow human rights experts Chaloka Beyani and Tracy Robinson.

They gathered and reviewed hundreds of documents, interviewed more than 150 individuals and conducted investigations in Libya, Tunisia and Italy.

Their report documents the recruitment and direct participation of children in hostilities, plus the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings of prominent women.

‘Superficial’ findings

Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst at International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera that, despite the importance of the report, it conclusions were “rather superficial”.

“This report is just the beginning of a process. The commission was supposed to deliver its final report by now but was actually very late in having its presence on the ground.

“Without the level of detail, they don’t name individuals, they don’t point to specific countries. There is no level of detail needed to follow up,” she explained.

Gazzini added that it was unlikely the report will create real change regarding the security situation on the ground in Libya.

Rights situation ‘dire’

Oil-rich Libya has been torn by conflict since the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising, with rival administrations vying for power.

“The findings unveil a dire human rights situation,” the report said.

The experts said civilians had paid a heavy price for the hostilities, notably due to attacks on schools and hospitals, while anti-personnel mines left by mercenaries in residential areas have killed and maimed civilians.

Meanwhile, those fleeing the conflict and its fallout by seeking passage across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe are subjected to a litany of abuses in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers, said Beyani.

Violations are committed “on a widespread scale” by state and non-state actors, “with a high level of organisation and with the encouragement of the state – all of which is suggestive of crimes against humanity”, the Zambian expert said.

Meanwhile in prisons, some detainees are tortured on a daily basis, the report said.

“Arbitrary detention in secret prisons and unbearable conditions of detention are widely used by the state and militias against anyone perceived to be a threat to their interests or views,” said Robinson.

“Violence in Libyan prisons is committed on such a scale and with such a level of organisation that it may also potentially amount to crimes against humanity.”

The report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday.

The experts want the council to extend their mandate for a further year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies