Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

Libya: Human Rights Council Monitoring Needed - Militias Committing Serious Crimes

press release

The UN Human Rights Council should condemn serious, ongoing human rights violations by militias in Libya, Human Rights Watch said today. The council should appoint an independent expert to document the abuses and monitor the government's response.

The Human Rights Council is discussing Libya during its current session, with a resolution expected the week of March 18, 2012.

Despite commitments by Libya's transitional government to stem abuses, Human Rights Watch has documented ongoing killings, torture, and forced displacement by militias. A UN Commission of Inquiryreport on March 2 found that anti-Gaddafi militias in Misrata had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict, and apparently crimes against humanity in the period since. The government has proven incapable of reining in these militias or holding to account those responsible for abuses.

"The war is over, but some militias are committing serious crimes, and apparently crimes against humanity," said Julie de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. "It's way too early for the Human Rights Council to consider the issue closed. It should monitor and report on the abuses documented by its own Commission of Inquiry."

A draft Human Rights Council resolution proposed by the transitional Libyan government is woefully weak, Human Rights Watch said. It only "takes note" of the Commission of Inquiry report and "encourages" the government to investigate human rights violations. Negotiations on the draft will continue until the voting, on March 22 or 23.

The resolution should include the appointment of an independent expert to monitor human rights violations and report back to the Council, Human Rights Watch said. At minimum, the Council should mandate the high commissioner for human rights to report on the human rights situation in the country publicly and regularly, Human Rights Watch said.

Libya's friends, especially those that supported the NATO intervention there, should approach Libya at the highest levels of government and insist on continued monitoring and involvement by the Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said.

"Libya's unwillingness to support outside monitoring by the council suggests it has something to hide, rather than the transparency that is needed after four decades of dictatorship and eight months of war," de Rivero said. "Outside monitoring will help the central government rein in abusive militias and build the rule of law."

The Human Rights Council established the Commission of Inquiry in February 2011, with a mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya and to make recommendations. Libya's membership at the council was suspendedin March 2011, because of serious abuses by the Gaddafi government. Libya rejoined the council in November.

The Commission of Inquiry's March 2 report, its second, found that Gaddafi forces had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. It also found that anti-Gaddafi forces had "committed serious violations, including war crimes and breaches of international human rights law, the latter continuing at the time of the present report." These violations include unlawful killing, arbitrary arrest and torture, as well as "revenge attacks against targeted communities perceived as loyalist [to Muammar Gaddafi]."

The difference between past and present abuses, the report said, is that "those responsible for abuses now are not part of a system of brutality sanctioned by the central government."

The UN report highlighted the plight of the people from Tawergha, perceived as Gaddafi supporters, who have been killed, arbitrarily arrested and tortured by anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misrata. The widespread and systematic nature of these abuses indicates that crimes against humanity have been committed, the report said.

The report called on the Human Rights Council to "establish a mechanism to ensure the implementation of the recommendations in [the] report."

Human Rights Watch has also documented torture, killings, and forced displacement against the roughly 35,000 displaced Tawerghans, as well as the forced displacement of people from the nearby villages of Tomina and Kararim. In February, an attack by militias on a camp for displaced Tawerghans in Janzur killed seven people, including three women and three children.

In an oral statement to the Council on March 12, Human Rights Watch said it agreed with the Commission of Inquiry's findings and reminded members that ongoing serious violations in Libya could be investigated by the International Criminal Court, which has continuing jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity in Libya since February 15, 2011.

"Libya's local and national authorities should know that the International Criminal Court can still investigate and prosecute serious crimes taking place in Libya, even after Gaddafi has gone," de Rivero said.

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