Libya conflict war crimes investigation ordered by UN

The UN has ordered a probe into war crimes committed by Haftar's forces, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), in Libya. The discovery of mass graves has led to the belief that atrocious crimes did indeed take place.

Libya conflict

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 Kadhafi in a Western-backed uprising.

Libya conflict war crimes investigation to take place 

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.”

Read more: War in Libya and Syria getting out of control!

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.

UN hopes report will chart a better future for Libya 

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: As proxy war heats up, Libya is in danger of becoming next Syria

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.

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.

Haftar’s forces have devastated Tripoli 

Khalifa Haftar has been part of the Libyan political scene for more than four decades. He is a dual Libyan-American national and the Commander of Libyan National Army (LNA). He served in Army under Qaddafi and participated in the Yom Kippur war of 1973 in the Libyan contingent against Israel. He is considered to be the most potent commander in the country. Apart from overthrowing Qaddafi back in 2011, he fought for or against almost every warring faction in the country.

Read more: Peace efforts at stake as Haftar’s forces continue attacks in Libya

The split in the Libyan Armed forces in 2015 led Haftar to control LNA  and has since fought against the Libyan Army controlled by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). He embarked upon many offensives to take control of  Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

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 indicate war crimes 

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.”

Read more: Security Council calls for humanitarian ceasefire in worldwide conflicts for 90 days

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.”

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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