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War crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Libya since 2016, says UN

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Show caption A detention centre in Zawiya, west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Photograph: Mahmud Turkia/AFP via Getty Images Libya War crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Libya since 2016, says UN Fact-finding mission says migrants and detainees particularly exposed to violations since civil war Peter Beaumont Mon 4 Oct 2021 14.21 BST Share on Facebook

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War crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, torture, enslavement, extrajudicial killings and rape have been committed in Libya since 2016, a United Nations investigation has found.

The independent fact-finding mission on Libya, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, said migrants and detainees were particularly exposed to violations that have occurred since the country was plunged into a state of instability and civil war.

Amid concerns about foreign mercenaries who have been operating in Libya, the experts said there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that personnel from a Russian private military company known as the Wagner Group “may have committed the crime of murder” in connection with evidence that they had fired gunshots directly at people not taking direct part in the hostilities.

The experts also cited reports indicating that the Libyan coastguard, which has been trained and equipped by the European Union as part of efforts to staunch the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, had mistreated migrants and handed some over to detention centres where torture and sexual violence were “prevalent”.

The mission suggested that rights abuses that targeted minorities, women and other civilians were prevalent in the period they examined.

Oil-rich Libya has been torn by conflict since the 2011 toppling and killing of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a Nato-backed uprising, with rival administrations vying for power.

Since 2014 Libya has been split by warring administrations supported by Turkey in the west and Russian mercenaries in the east. As part of a UN-backed programme after the signing of a ceasefire last October, Libya is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections at the end of 2021.

“The violence that has plagued Libya since 2011, and which has continued almost unabated since 2016, has enabled the commission of serious violations, abuses and crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, against the most vulnerable,” the three members who led the mission said in their report.

“All parties to the conflicts, including third states, foreign fighters and mercenaries, have violated international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of proportionality and distinction, and some have also committed war crimes,” said Mohamed Auajjar, who chaired the mission.

He added: “Civilians paid a heavy price during the 2019-2020 hostilities in Tripoli, as well as during other armed confrontations in the country since 2016. Airstrikes have killed dozens of families.

“The destruction of health-related facilities has impacted access to health care and anti-personnel mines left by mercenaries in residential areas have killed and maimed civilians.”

Describing crimes committed against migrants, Chaloka Beyani, another mission member, said: “Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees are subjected to a litany of abuses at sea, in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers.

“Our investigations indicate that violations against migrants are committed on a widespread scale by state and non-state actors, with a high level of organisation and with the encouragement of the state – all of which is suggestive of crimes against humanity.”

The unrest in the north African country has had a dramatic impact on Libyans’ economic, social and cultural rights, as borne out by attacks on hospitals and schools.

The mission said it had identified individuals and groups – both Libyan and foreign – who may bear responsibility for the violations, abuses and crimes. However, it said the list would remain confidential until it could be shared with appropriate accountability mechanisms.

Though the Libyan judicial authorities are investigating most of the cases documented in the report, the process “faces significant challenges”, the experts said.

In June 2020, the Human Rights Council – the UN’s top rights body – adopted a resolution calling for a fact-finding mission to be sent to Libya. The move had Tripoli’s support.

The experts, appointed in August last year, were charged with investigating alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed in Libya since 2016.

Auajjar was joined by fellow human rights experts Beyani and Tracy Robinson.

They gathered and reviewed hundreds of documents, interviewed more than 150 individuals and conducted investigations in Libya, Tunisia and Italy.

Their report documents the recruitment and direct participation of children in hostilities, plus the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings of prominent women.

The experts said anti-personnel mines left by mercenaries in residential areas had killed and maimed civilians.

Migrants seeking passage across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe were subjected to a litany of abuses in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers, said Beyani.

Violations are committed “on a widespread scale” by state and non-state actors, “with a high level of organisation and with the encouragement of the state – all of which is suggestive of crimes against humanity”, the Zambian expert said.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report