News / Africa

UN Accuses Libyan Forces of War Crimes

Rebel fighters fire a heavy machine gun toward forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at Misrata's western front line, some 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the city center, June 1, 2011
Rebel fighters fire a heavy machine gun toward forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at Misrata's western front line, some 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the city center, June 1, 2011

Special United Nations investigators accuse government forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity - charges that Libya denies.  Members of an international Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate human rights violations in the midst of the ongoing war say they, too, have evidence of war crimes committed by opposition forces.  The commission has submitted its report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The chair of the Commission of Inquiry, Cherif Bassiouni, does not mince his words as he presents the conclusions of the fact-finding mission to the U.N. Human Rights Council.  

“There have been many serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by government forces and their supporters amounting to war crimes. They include attacks on civilians and civilian objects and targets, attacks on humanitarian-related personnel, attacks on medical units and transports using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions,”  Bassiouni said.

The 92-page report also lists a large number of violations committed by government forces, which it says amounts to crimes against humanity.  These include murder, torture, enforced disappearance and sexual abuse as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.

Addressing the U.N. council, the head of the Libyan delegation, Mustafa Shaban, denied the charges, saying it was instead rebels and NATO forces that committed abuses.

Bassiouni says the commission did not find evidence that the opposition armed forces were part of any widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.  

“However, in certain reports that indicates that these forces connected with the opposition did commit certain international crimes, such as killings, tortures, cruel treatment and some outrages upon personal dignity, in particular against persons in detention, migrant workers, and those believed to be mercenaries,” Bassiouni said.  

During its mission to Libya, the commission met with 350 people across the country, including government and opposition officials, civil society, displaced people, medical staff and a few detainees.  It also looked at thousands of pages of documents, photos and videos.

The investigators say they have received estimates that 10,000 to 15,000 people have been killed since the war broke out in February.  But it says it cannot confirm this number.

During a news conference following the presentation of the report, Bassiouni told journalists he was not surprised by the findings.  He says the violations being committed by Mr. Gadhafi’s government today are the same as those that have been going on for the past 42 years.

He blames the international community for letting the Libyan leader literally get away with murder for all these years.

Bassiouni says the commission needs more time to carry out a full investigation and hopes the U.N. Human Rights Council will adopt a proposed resolution to extend the work of the commission for another year.

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