Saturday, March 03, 2012

Libya: UN Blames Pro- and Anti-Gaddafi Forces For War Crimes

By Richard Johnson
Courtesy IDN-InDepth News Report

GENEVA (IDN) - Both the troops loyal to the former ruler Muammar Gaddafi and the forces that fought to oust him committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, reports the United Nations-mandated commission of inquiry that probed human rights abuses in Libya.

A summary of the findings of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya says: "Acts of murder, enforced disappearance and torture were perpetrated within the context of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population."

The Commission comprising Philippe Kirsch, Cherif M. Bassiouni and Asma Khader found. "additional violations including unlawful killing, individual acts of torture and ill-treatment, attacks on civilians, and rape."

The Commission further concluded that the thuwar (anti-Gaddafi forces) committed "serious violations, including war crimes and breaches of international human rights law." The latter continued at the time of the report.

Violations included unlawful killing, arbitrary arrest, torture, enforced disappearance, indiscriminate attacks, and pillage. Anti-Gaddafi fighters particularly targeted members of the Tawergha community and other groups for attack.

The northeast Libyan town of Tawergha, formerly home to about 40,000 people, is now a "ghost town" after intense fighting last year ended in the city's capture and the total displacement of its population.

The International Commission of Inquiry was established by an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 25, 2011 and mandated to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya, establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated.

It was also asked, where possible, to identify those responsible, make recommendations on accountability measures to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable.

The commission also concluded that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties. On limited occasions, it confirmed civilian casualties and found targets that showed no evidence of military utility.

"The Commission was unable to draw conclusions in such instances on the basis of the information provided by NATO and recommends further investigations," says the report. It states that Libya's interim Government faces many challenges in overcoming a legacy of more than 40 years of serious human rights violations and deterioration of the legislative framework, judicial and national institutions.

The Commission took note of the transitional Government's expressed commitment to human rights, saying authorities have taken positive steps to establish mechanisms for accountability.

The panel said the Libyan Government is gradually restoring the judiciary by reopening courts and recalling judges, and there has been some progress in the transfer of detainees to central Government control. Nevertheless, it voiced concern over the failure to hold accountable members of the thuwar who committed serious human rights violations.

"Libyan authorities can break with the Gaddafi legacy by enforcing the law equally, investigating all abuses – irrespective of the perpetrator – and ensuring that amnesty processes comport with Libya's obligations under international law," the commission said, adding: "To give effect to its commitment to improve the human rights situation in Libya, the interim Government will need considerable support from the United Nations and the international community."

The Commission is scheduled to present its report to the current session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 9, 2012.


Meanwhile, the top United Nations envoy to Libya expressed confidence on February 29, 2012 that the North African nation will be able to overcome current difficulties and pursue the path towards the goals it committed itself to when the popular uprising began a year ago.

"It is clear that the Libyan people are eager to move forward with the transition to democracy, and their most central expectation of the United Nations is that we will support them in doing so," Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), told the Security Council.

Speaking via videoconference from the capital, Tripoli, Martin noted that the country has begun implementing the framework for staging the first free elections in Libya in four decades. It adopted the electoral administration law as well as the main electoral law, and appointed the High National Electoral Commission.

The main electoral law provides for a mixed parallel electoral system, with 120 seats to be elected by majoritarian races reserved for individual candidates, and 80 seats to be elected by proportional races reserved for lists to be submitted by political or other groups.

"Like all electoral frameworks, this parallel system is a compromise among competing views and interests, but our judgment is that the law provides a reasonable foundation for the election of the National Congress, although some gaps and shortcomings remain," said the envoy.

Members of the National Congress, due to be elected by late June, will be tasked with drafting a new constitution for Libya, where Gaddafi ruled for more than 40 years until 2011 uprising led to civil war and the deposing of his regime.

Crucial to the successful conduct of elections is a "positive evolution" of the security situation, stated Martin. "The Libyan authorities well recognize that their foremost challenge is to address the future of the revolutionary fighters and the wide circulation of weapons, and to develop professional state security institutions under civilian control."

He added that the new government that has been in place now for three months, and headed by Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib, faces "tremendous challenges and a heavy legacy from the former regime" as it tries to tackle illegal migration and smuggling, effective border control, proliferation of weapons, and the need to reverse policies of long-standing discrimination against minority communities and foster national reconciliation among tribes.

This was tragically highlighted in recent days by deadly clashes which erupted between the Tabou and the Zwaya tribal brigades in the southern city of Kufra over a two-week period, with about 100 reported to have died and many others seriously injured.

The issue of torture and ill-treatment of detainees also needs to be tackled, he said, noting that further information in this regard, including on deaths in custody, have come to light over the past month through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UNSMIL's own visits to places of detention.

In a speech to the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, El-Keib reiterated his Government's human rights commitment and cooperation with the UN and others on this issue. "Strong and urgent measures are essential to give effect to these intentions," Martin said.

Libya's court system, he reported, is slowly coming back into operation, with several courts in Tripoli and Benghazi resuming operations, despite some concerns about security of judges and lawyers.

In addition, the transitional justice law was made public on February 14. It establishes a fact-finding and reconciliation commission mandated to investigate crimes and human rights violations since 1969.

"While the law does not necessarily reflect best practices elsewhere, it provides an important opportunity to start a comprehensive truth-seeking process in Libya," said the envoy.

Meanwhile, Martin concluded a three-day visit to eastern Libya on February 26 to assess how the area's conflict-affected cities – some of them still littered with mines and others kinds of unexploded ordnance – are rehabilitating themselves, even as they deal with the problem displacement, while preparing for elections.

"In New York as I was planning ahead for the United Nations post-conflict role in Libya I was constantly watching on the television the battle that was going on on the road that we’ve come on today," Martin told the Breqa local council on his first stop.

"“I have some idea of what Breqa and its people suffered, but I wanted to see that for myself and understand it better," he said.

He visited Breqa's heavily-damaged university and watched a slideshow documenting local efforts to clear up to 22,000 landmines planted during the conflict. Martin ended his trip to Breqa with a visit to a local school, one of 16 out of a total of 22 still functioning.

He also met with local and military councils, as well as civil society to discuss issues related to the elections, security, human rights and the ongoing demining efforts.

In Ajdabiyah, a town of 170,000 people which changed hands four times during the hostilities, Mr. Martin visited the war museum, the hospital, and the local sub-station of the Great Man-Made River water distribution system.

"One of the most impressive things was the way that local people have very quickly started addressing their own needs without waiting for any type of international assistance and indeed before the interim Government has been able to assist them," said Martin.

Local council members in Ajdabiyah said that their city had received thousands of new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in recent days following inter-tribal clashes in the south-eastern city of Kufra. There are also IDPs from Tawargha and some Syrian refugees who have fled conflict in their country. [IDN-InDepthNews – March 2, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Members of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya from left: Asma Khader, Cherif Bassiouni and Philippe Kirsch. Credit: UN Photo/UNIS