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Libya: War Crimes Likely Committed Since 2016, UN Probe Finds

War crimes and crimes against humanity have likely been committed in Libya by all parties to conflict since 2016 including by external actors, a Human Rights Council-appointed probe said on Monday.

From arbitrary detention to torture, the recruitment of child soldiers and mass killings, the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya listed numerous grave rights violations which had impacted the country’s people and which gave them “reasonable grounds” for the war crimes allegations.

Civilian targets

Civilians were particularly at risk during the 2019-2020 fight for the capital Tripoli, the Mission said, as well as during other violence in the country since 2016, which has been marked by attacks on hospitals, schools, migration detention centres, and communities at large.

“Airstrikes have killed dozens of families. The destruction of health-related facilities has impacted access to healthcare, and anti-personnel mines left by mercenaries in residential areas have killed and maimed civilians,” said Mission chair, Mohamed Auajjar.

The investigators – whose Fact-Finding Mission was created by the Human Rights Council in June last year - published their findings after reviewing hundreds of documents and interviewing more than 150 individuals, alongside parallel research in Libya, Tunisia and Italy.

‘Unbearable’ conditions

“Arbitrary detention in secret prisons and unbearable conditions of detention are widely used by the State or militias against anyone perceived to be a threat to their interests or views,” said the Mission’s Tracy Robinson speaking to journalists in Geneva.

Organised violations

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

The UN-appointed independent investigators highlighted violence against migrants, refugees and other vulnerable minorities including LGBTQi individuals.

“Violations against migrants are committed on a widespread scale by State and non-State actors with a high level of organisation and with encouragement of the State. All of this is suggestive of crimes against humanity,” said Mission member Chaloka Beyani.

Mr. Beyani also pointed to worrying reports about the continued presence of foreign fighters in the country from the Syrian conflict and private mercenaries allegedly contracted by the Russia-based Wagner Group, in the fight for the Libyan capital from 2019 to 2020, claims highlighted previously by the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries.

Mercenaries remain

“Our investigations have indicated that there are foreign fighters, there are mercenaries in Libya, and they have not yet left the territory of Libya as required,” he said.

Other likely violations of international law covered by the Mission included the recruitment of children to fight.

“Our report also documents the recruitment and direct participation of children in hostilities, the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings of prominent women and continuing sexual and other forms of violence against vulnerable populations including LGBTQI persons,” said Ms. Robinson.

Tarhuna atrocity

The Mission also verified allegations of atrocity crimes committed in the town of Tarhuna, southeast of Tripoli, between 2016 and 2020, where mass graves containing the bodies of men, women and children have been found.

According to reports, the Kaniyat militia were responsible for killing perhaps hundreds of civilians in Tarhuna, their wounds indicating that they had been shot many times while blindfolded, handcuffed and with their legs tied.

Mission chair Mohamed Auajjar noted that the recently installed Government of National Unity has created the possibility of national dialogue and unification of State institutions.

The UN has been supporting peace efforts in Libya, which descended into chaos and conflict following the overthrow of President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, resulting in the country being divided between the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) based in the east.

In a statement, the Mission noted that it had identified “both Libyans and foreign actors who may bear responsibility for the violations, abuses and crimes committed in Libya since 2016”.

Confidential list

These names will remain on a confidential list “until the need arises for its publication or sharing with other accountability mechanisms”, the Mission continued, acknowledging the continuing work of the investigation opened in 2011 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Libya, at the request of the UN Security Council.

“As Libyans strive to secure peace, ensuring accountability for gross human rights violations and international crimes committed in the country is more necessary than ever to deter further violations and promote long-term peace and reconciliation,” said Mr. Auajjar.

“We urge Libya to intensify its efforts to hold those responsible to account. It is also essential that the international community continues to provide support to the Libyan judicial authorities.”

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