Libyan Government forces and opposition committed war crimes – UN panel

Human Rights Council, Geneva

1 June 2011 – A United Nations-ordered panel investigating human rights abuses in Libya says that both Government forces and the opposition have committed war crimes during the weeks of fighting following the uprising against the regime of Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi.

The three-member International Commission of Inquiry, dispatched by the UN Human Rights Council, submitted its findings to the 47-member body in Geneva today. The report comes as concern grows about the worsening humanitarian situation in the North African country, including dwindling food stocks, and as diplomatic efforts to help resolve the crisis continue.

The commission “has reached the conclusion that crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed by the Government forces of Libya,” according to a news release issued in Geneva.

“The commission received fewer reports of facts which would amount to the commission of international crimes by opposition forces; however, it did find some acts which would constitute war crimes.”

The acts falling under crimes against humanity include murder, imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance and sexual abuse, which the report stated were committed by Government forces “as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.”

Serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by Government forces amounting to war crimes include intentionally directing attacks against protected persons and targets such as civilian structures, medical units and transport.

The commission said it had received, but was unable to verify, individual accounts of rape. “It notes, however, that sufficient information was received to justify further investigation to ascertain the extent of sexual violence, including whether cases were linked to incitement by the command of either side.”

Further investigation is also warranted, it stated, with regard to the use and recruitment of child soldiers, the use of excessive force by Government forces against demonstrators, arrests and detentions that were carried out in a “blanket” fashion, and a “pattern of enforced disappearances.”

The commission also found that torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were committed by both the Government and opposition forces in violation of obligations under international human rights law and humanitarian law.

The team, led by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian jurist and war crimes expert, calls on the Government to immediately cease acts of violence against civilians in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, and to conduct “exhaustive, impartial and transparent” investigations into all alleged violations.

It also calls on the National Transitional Council, the umbrella group representing the opposition, to conduct similar investigations into alleged violations, and to ensure the immediate implementation of applicable international humanitarian and human rights law.

Also serving on the commission is Asma Khader, a Jordanian-Palestinian lawyer who serves on the executive committee of the International Commission of Jurists, and Canada’s Philippe Kirsch, who was the first president of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Council is scheduled to consider the report on 6 June, as part of its current session.

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