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Index AI: MDE 19/1660/2015
18 May 2015
One year of conflict: ICC offers path to accountability in Libya
The international community must increase its support to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Libya, Amnesty International said today as the conflict in the east of the country enters its second year of fighting and new abuses continue to be reported.
Despite the seriousness of documented abuses and continued jurisdiction over Libya the ICC has failed to expand its investigations to include crimes under international law committed by armed groups and militias with complete impunity since 2011. The ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reiterated on a number of occasions since the renewal of the violence in Libya in May 2014 that a lack of resources and instability have hampered her office from expanding her investigations beyond the cases against Abdallah al-Senussi and Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, both accused of crimes relating to their alleged role in the 2011 armed conflict.
A lack of resources cannot be a continued justification for the lack of accountability in Libya at a time when civilians risk being abducted and executed because of their name, tribe, religion or political opinion. The UN Security Council unanimously referred the situation in Libya to the ICC in February 2011. More must be done to ensure that the ICC has at its disposal the financial resources that are necessary to conduct investigations, Amnesty International has said.
Amnesty International recognizes that security is a great concern for everyone in Libya. Since the fall of Colonel al-Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, militias and armed groups have undermined the Libyan authorities’ ability to conduct meaningful investigations into human rights abuses by attacking courts, judges, lawyers and prosecutors. They have arbitrarily detained thousands of individuals and opposed the implementation of release orders by the judicial authorities. Amnesty International recognizes the risks that may arise during the conduct of any potential ICC investigations in Libya at this time. More can be done however, to gather and preserve evidence from outside of Libya’s borders where thousands of victims and witnesses have fled in different waves since 2011, including since the start of the ongoing conflicts. It is crucial that the ICC increases its cooperation with all individuals who possess knowledge or have fallen victim of abuses by armed groups, militias and other forces in order to preserve evidence for criminal proceedings.
The stated aim of Operation Dignity launched by General Khalifa Haftar a year ago was aimed at restoring the rule of law and combating terrorism, but months of fierce fighting, including street battles and airstrikes have plunged Libya into further chaos and armed conflicts across the country. In the west, Libya Dawn, the military response to Operation Dignity was launched in July last year by a coalition of predominantly Misratah, Zawiya and Tripoli-based militias, while in the south, particularly around Obari, tribal fighting broke out along fault lines mirroring the wider conflict.
Two rival governments continue to compete for legitimacy and power, but neither exercises full and effective control on the ground. Instead, the breakdown of central authority has allowed for armed groups, including those that have pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS) to consolidate their power and extend their control over some areas of the country while perpetrating serious human rights abuses.
Across Libya, human rights abuses and violations of international law, some of which may amount to war crimes, are perpetrated today at an alarming scale. Hundreds of civilians, including women, men and children, were either injured or killed by indiscriminate shelling with rockets, mortars and gunfire by all sides. Airstrikes conducted by Operation Dignity and, in one instance by Egypt in the eastern city of Derna, have also resulted in some civilian casualties. By the end of 2014, UNHCR, the refugee agency estimated the number of displaced persons across Libya at 400,000. In several areas of the country, particularly in Benghazi, Obari, Tripoli, Warshafana and the Nafusa Mountains, the violence caused extensive damage to houses, hospitals, schools, mosques, businesses and civilian infrastructure. Across Libya, the fighting has disrupted access to healthcare, education and basic services.
All sides to the conflict continue to target civilians and their property on account of political affiliation, origin or tribal belonging. In August and September 2014, Libya Dawn groups looted, vandalized or burnt at least 80 houses of individuals from Zintan, for their real or perceived affiliation with Operation Dignity. In Benghazi, the demolitions and attacks against family homes on account of real or perceived affiliation with Ansar al-Shari’a and other armed groups fighting against Operation Dignity, have continued to be reported since October last year. Assassinations, which have plagued Libya since 2011, have continued.
IS affiliated groups have claimed abductions and summary killings of at least 49 foreign nationals targeted for their religion since the beginning of 2015, in addition to bombing targeting civilians and public floggings and execution-style killings in Derna perpetrated in the name of enforcing their own interpretation of Shari’a Law.
Amnesty International continues to receive new reports of abductions, hostage-taking and incommunicado detention of civilians. According to the Libyan Red Crescent Society (LRCS), as of April 2015, the fate or whereabouts of at least 378 individuals who have gone missing since February 2014 remains unknown. Some 626 reports of missing persons have been filed with LRCS since February 2014, with over 500 reported in Benghazi. Since then, the fate of over 150 persons has been clarified either through prisoner exchanges, releases or following the discovery of their dead bodies. Amnesty International is aware of at least 191 individuals who have been abducted in Libya since mid-2014 through its own documentation and press reports. This includes a documented 63 individuals abducted since the beginning of 2015 alone.
Those abducted include for example Abdel Moez Banoun, a political rights activist and blogger aged 39, who has been missing for 298 days following his abduction at the height of the fighting in Tripoli on 24 July 2014. The fate and whereabouts of approximately 150 detainees accused of being soldiers or volunteers with the al-Gaddafi government have remained unknown since 15 October 2014 following reports of their abduction from Bouhdima military prison in Benghazi. New cases of torture in makeshift detention centres and prisons across the country, including death under torture, continue to be reported. In one such case recently documented by Amnesty International, Rami Rajab al-Fituti, a 29 year-old student, was detained on suspicion of belonging to Ansar al-Shari’a and taken to the Criminal Investigations Department in the Hada’iq area in Benghazi. Three days later he was granted a family visit after which he was cut off from the outside world. On 22 March 2015, his family discovered his dead body in the morgue of the Benghazi Medical Centre. Photos of his dead body reviewed by Amnesty International show marks of torture.
In its last report submitted to the UN Security Council on 12 May, the Office of the ICC Prosecutor expressed “deep concern about grave crimes allegedly committed by a number of actors in Libya”. The report referred to allegations of indiscriminate shelling in heavily populated areas by both Operation Dignity and Libya Dawn forces, at least 35 car bombings since October 2014 mostly by unidentified perpetrators, executions of foreign nationals and other attacks against civilians by groups that have pledged allegiance to IS, hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians, and “abductions, detention, torture and executions that could qualify as Rome Statute crimes” committed by “most, if not all, parties to the conflict”, amongst other possible crimes. The ICC Prosecutor also stated that she is “actively considering the investigation and prosecution of further cases” and called on states to increase efforts to restore security in Libya and strengthen the Libyan authorities’ ability to bring perpetrators to justice.
Expressing concern at abuses and violations perpetrated in Libya, or supporting the Libyan authorities to conduct their own investigations and judicial proceedings before ordinary civilian courts is crucial, but no longer enough. It is time for states, in particular those that have taken part in the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, to address the human rights situation in Libya and ensure that accountability for abuses. Justice must be achievable through courts exercising universal jurisdiction or through the ICC.