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UN Experts Find War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity in Libya

Continued Investigation of Rights Situation in the Country Remains Essential

Members of Brigade 444, an armed group linked with the Tripoli Army Chief of Staff, patrol streets of Salaheddin in the southern suburbs of Tripoli, September 4, 2021. © 2021 Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

United Nations experts have concluded that security forces and armed groups in Libya may have committed a “wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity” against Libyans and migrants, making an urgent call for “accountability to end this pervasive impunity.”

The final report by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (FFM) documented sweeping abuses including “repression of civic groups, arbitrary detention, murder, rape, enslavement, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance.”

Human rights conditions in Libya are precarious, and restrictions imposed by authorities on the work of humanitarian groups and other organizations threaten to make things worse.

Libyan authorities have imposed unworkable conditions on civic groups in terms of registration, financial reporting, and activities. The Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) recently imposed severe restrictions on international organizations and civic groups’ ability to obtain visas to enter Libya, including Human Rights Watch. This could lead to withholding of vital humanitarian aid and support to vulnerable communities.

In its report, the FFM also cited that authorities did not grant its specialists access to all regions, nor to any places of detention around the country.

For these reasons and more, it is crucial that scrutiny of Libya should continue.

The anticipated end of the FFM’s mandate this month without the option of renewal and increasing restrictions on the work of civic groups in Libya will drastically reduce visibility into what is happening in the country. That makes the FFM’s recommendation to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish an independent international investigative mechanism crucial, as well as the call for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an autonomous, ongoing mechanism to monitor and report on gross human rights violations. A resolution on Libya at the current session of the UNHRC falls drastically short of these calls, focusing instead on capacity building and technical assistance to Libyan authorities.

Libyan nongovernmental groups have called on the international community to ensure Libya remains under the UNHRC’s scrutiny and the subject of independent international investigations. If not, there’s a risk that entrenched warlordism and perpetual conflict will only increase abuses and shrink civic space even further. The international community should heed their call.

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