An October 4, 2021 report published by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (“Mission”) warned of the likelihood of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country by multiple conflicting parties since the beginning 2016.
The report, which the Mission presented on October 5, 2021, examines nine areas of focus for violations, abuses, and crimes under international human rights, humanitarian, and criminal law. Categories range from deprivation of liberty to extrajudicial killings and gender-based violence.
Procedures and Findings
The U.N. Human Rights Council originally established the Fact-Finding Mission on June 22, 2020, through its resolution 43/39 with the aim of collecting and examining through an impartial lens the facts of the alleged violations and abuses of human rights in Libya since 2016. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet appointed the three members of the Mission on August 19, 2020, citing their expertise and ability to function as an independent team documenting abuses and violations of humanitarian and human rights law. All three members hold U.N. backgrounds in human rights and justice, with two members also holding legal backgrounds and teaching positions in international law.
The team members collectively examined hundreds of documents, interviewed over 150 people, and investigated the circumstances in Libya, Italy, and Tunisia. Their findings indicate significant evidence of violations in the towns and cities of Tripoli, Ganfouda, and Tarhuna, in addition to the greater region of southern Libya. The findings also indicate targeted violence and crimes towards vulnerable demographics like migrants, women, and children. Furthermore, the Mission found evidence of mercenaries in armed conflict, especially in the Tripoli area. Participating actors include Syrian fighters deployed by Turkish nationals and individuals associated with the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group, the latter the report finds may have committed murder as a war crime.
Though the Mission’s investigation is revelatory, the report’s findings are not exhaustive and the team requires more time to piece together a full determination of the abuses committed in Libya. In a press conference given by members of the Mission, Chair Mohamed Auajjar stressed the importance of additional investigation into the situation and recommended that the Human Rights Council extend the Mission’s mandate by a year.
The Mission’s investigation highlights the importance of accountability and cooperation in the handling of the crisis: The cooperation of Libyan authorities with the Mission was crucial in uncovering the details of the situation, but instances where government officials declined to cooperate — mostly in expediting paperwork and permitting visits to detention centers and other relevant sites — hindered the Mission’s time-sensitive efforts. Additionally, several individuals and Libyan-based non-governmental organizations were reluctant to meet with the Mission out of fear of retaliation or reprisal by state agents or militias.
Though this month’s report sheds much-needed light on the humanitarian crisis in Libya since 2016, further investigation and greater cooperation from both state and non-state actors is necessary to piece together a comprehensive view of the crimes committed by warring parties. The full picture of these crimes — and the accompanying accountability to pursue their perpetrators — can only come to light if the safety of sources who hold key information can be guaranteed.
*Kenneth Boggess is a sophomore at Georgetown University studying international politics and foreign policy. He is the editorial intern for the IELR and a staff writer and copy editor for The Georgetown Voice.