UN investigation finds Libya’s warring factions likely committed war crimes

Libya’s warring factions and their foreign backers have likely committed war crimes and crimes against humanity since 2016, a United Nations investigation finds.

A team of investigators appointed by the Human Rights Council said on Monday that attacks on hospitals, schools and detention centers for migrants were common in the civil war in the North African country. As part of its investigation into extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence and other abuses, the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya reviewed hundreds of documents and interviewed more than 150 people in Libya, Tunisia and Italy.

“The violence that has plagued Libya since 2011, and that has continued almost unabated since 2016, has allowed for serious violations, abuses and crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, against the most vulnerable,” the report said.

“Dozens of families have been killed in air strikes. The destruction of health-related facilities has affected access to health care, and anti-personnel mines left by mercenaries in residential areas have killed and maimed civilians,” said probe chairman Mohamed Auajjar.

The UN investigators have compiled a list of Libyan and foreign perpetrators, but are keeping the names secret. The findings come as a new unity government in Libya prepares to hold national elections in late December.

Libya has been embroiled in conflict since the fall of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was then ruled by two rival governments: the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

The UN said civilians were particularly at risk from the fighting during the LNA’s year-long offensive on Tripoli, which ended in June 2020 when the GNA regained full control of the strategic city.

The fact-finding mission also said foreign fighters and mercenaries remain in the country, despite an October 2020 ceasefire calling for their removal. In December, the UN had estimated that at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries had not left Libya.

Since the start of the Libyan civil war in 2014, foreign governments have flooded the country with illegal weapons and mercenaries. The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Russia supported Khalifa Hifter’s self-proclaimed army, while the GNA received support from Turkey and Qatar.

The fact-finding mission said Monday it also documented widespread violence against detained migrants seeking refuge in Europe, as well as against LGBTQ individuals and other minorities.

“Violence in Libyan prisons is perpetrated on such a scale and with such an organizational level that it could also amount to crimes against humanity,” the researchers said.

The report also documented the recruitment and direct participation of children in the conflict, as well as enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of women. The report also confirmed the atrocities committed in Tarhuna, a city formerly controlled by the Kaniyat militia. Forensic experts have since discovered numerous mass graves with civilian bodies.

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