UN orders war crime probe in Libya

UN orders war crime probe in Libya after mass graves discovered
3 min read
The UN's top rights body ordered a fact-finding mission to Libya to document violations committed since 2016 as ICC prosecutors said mass graves discovered there may constitute war crimes.
Rights groups hailed Monday's resolution (Getty)
The UN's top rights body on Monday ordered a fact-finding mission to Libya to document violations committed since 2016 as International Criminal Court prosecutors said mass graves discovered there may constitute war crimes.

Oil-rich Libya has been torn by conflict, drawing in militias, jihadists and mercenaries, since the 2011 toppling and killing of dictator Moamer Ghadaffi in a Western-backed uprising.

Since 2015, a power struggle has pitted the UN-recognised Tripoli government against eastern commander Khalifa Haftar with both sides backed by rival foreign powers.

The UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus the resolution strongly condemning all acts of violence in Libya and urging UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to "dispatch a fact-finding mission" to the country.

The resolution expressed concern at reports of "torture, sexual and gender-based violence and harsh conditions in prisons and detention centres."

The fact-finding mission experts will "document alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties in Libya since the beginning of 2016," the text said.

Tamim Baiou, Libya's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the council shortly before the resolution was adopted by consensus that he hoped it would mark "a turning point for a better future for Libya."

Read more: What does Egypt's 'declaration of war' in Libya really mean?

The resolution put forward in March by a group of African countries, but the UN's top rights body was forced to suspend its main annual session for three months due to the coronavirus crisis, postponing a vote by the 47-member council until Monday.

The council's 43rd session resumed last week after Switzerland relaxed the measures imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19, and concluded Monday with the Libya resolution.

'Long overdue'

Rights groups hailed Monday's resolution.

"We welcome the establishment of the fact-finding mission as an important and long overdue step towards ending the rampant impunity that has for years fuelled by the horrific crimes committed in Libya," Heba Morayef, head of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa operations, said in a statement.

Hundreds have been killed and some 200,000 people were displaced in Libya since the latest escalation, that began in April 2019, when Haftar's forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, began an onslaught against Tripoli.

But then Tripoli's Government of National Accord, with stepped-up support from Turkey, has pushed back and launched a counter-offensive that has reclaimed all of northwestern Libya.

"The establishment of a fact-finding mission into abuses in Libya is a wake-up call to warlords and armed groups that they could be held accountable for serious crimes committed by their rank and file," Human Rights Watch's Eric Goldstein said.

Mass graves

The withdrawal of Haftar's forces earlier this month allowed for the discovery of eight suspected mass graves, prompting rights groups to urge that they be investigated for war crimes.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement Monday that she would "not hesitate" to enlarge her investigation following the discovery of the mass graves, which she said "may constitute evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity."

Envoy Baiou insisted that GNA had showed that "impunity will no longer be tolerated" in Libya.

Tripoli hoped, he said, that the resolution indicated "the international community holds the same threshold for those countries who contributed to this situation in Libya."

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