TRIPOLI, Libya — Forces from both sides of the Libyan uprising are guilty of war crimes, breaches of international human rights laws and crimes against humanity, according to a UN report obtained by GlobalPost, scheduled for release later this week.
Both Gaddafi regime forces and revolutionary fighters committed murder, torture, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, and indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya stated. The continuing abuses being carried out by ex-rebel fighters in a “climate of impunity” are deeply concerning, the report added.
“The Commission finds that the authorities are failing to hold accountable thuwar [revolutionary forces] who have committed serious violations including unlawful killings and arbitrary arrests,” read an advance copy of the report that will be officially released on March 9.
The commission also stated that to their knowledge no investigation has been carried out regarding any offences committed by ex-rebel fighters and no arrests for these crimes have been made.
National Transitional Council justice coordinator Jamal Bennor said now is not the time to be putting former rebels on trial.
“It may seem we are ignoring these crimes, but this does not mean we have given amnesty to the perpetrators,” Bennor said.
While a few cases against former rebels are under investigation in both Benghazi and Tripoli, Bennor said it is difficult to deal with the security committees and rebel groups outside of the bigger cities. There is a public sympathy towards the rebel forces, many of which are hailed as heroes. Bennor said it is crucial to establish a working security force first and activate government ministries and a new constitution before arrests can be made.
“After this these crimes must be investigated and perpetrators brought before the courts,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Libyan justice system is still under development after the collapse of the former regime. In its absence, as violations go unpunished, a circle of revenge attacks continues, further complicating the delicate balance of power between the new government and armed militia groups.
The UN report urged Libyan authorities to “break with the Gaddafi legacy by enforcing the law equally, investigating all abuses – irrespective of the perpetrator – and ensuring that amnesty processes comport with Libya’s obligations under international law."
While these findings paint a gloomy picture of present day Libya, the commission acknowledged these atrocities must be viewed within the context of the legacy of violence left by the former regime. The new leadership now faces the challenge of rebuilding a country “devoid of independent institutions, a civil society, political parties, and a judiciary able to provide justice and redress.”
While abuses still continue against those perceived as Gaddafi loyalists, one significant difference from the crimes of the former regime is that they are being committed by individuals or independent units and not as part of a “system of brutality sanctioned by the central government,” the report stated.
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From the early days of the revolution, media reports and rebel fighters on the ground have stated that Muammar Gaddafi brought mercenary troops to Libya from African nations including Chad, Sudan and Mauritania to quash the revolution. This allegation, along with unconfirmed reports of gang rapes carried out mainly by volunteer fighters from the city of Tawergha, have fueled hatred and sparked revenge killings and reprisals against Libya’s black community.
The report stated that the widespread and systematic killing, arrest and torture of Tawerghans by Misratan militias and the wanton destruction of their city may constitute a crime against humanity.
Rebel fighter Majid Alfituri, an advocate against the killing of prisoners from the early days of the conflict, said that the deep-seated anger towards captured mercenary fighters, and in turn all black prisoners, generally led to their immediate execution. He said he would often scream at the rebel fighters not to kill them, not only for moral reasons, but without these captives they had no proof of the existence of Gaddafi’s mercenaries.
The commission said it found no evidence of mercenary forces. It did, however, conclude that sexual abuse was used by Gaddafi troops to torture, terrorize and punish. Offenses including rape of both men and women occurred within victim’s homes, after kidnapping or while in detention.
Gaddafi forces were also found guilty of using internationally banned weapons including cluster bombs and landmines. While the commission stated regime forces did carry out theft on a “small scale,” it accused rebel fighters of "widespread pillage" and "destruction of public and private property."
The UN commission also looked extensively into the capture and subsequent death of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his son Mutassim who were both captured by revolutionary forces while attempting to flee the city of Sirte on October 20. Although video evidence shows both men were alive on capture, the commission were unable to confirm the death of either men as an “unlawful killing.”
From his prison cell in Misrata, Colonel Mansour Daw, Gaddafi’s chief of security, confirmed that Gaddafi had suffered only minor injuries at the time of his capture.
Daw was among Gaddafi’s inner security circle during the siege of Sirte, where in the final stages they changed locations every few days, hiding out in abandoned homes as bombs pummeled the city around them.
He said Gaddafi had refused to leave the city saying, “I want to die here. This is my home. I will not give myself to the International Criminal Court.”
As they fled the city in a convoy of around 40 vehicles, Daw was seated next to Gaddafi when NATO airstrikes hit the car in front, shattering the windows of their own vehicle. As they fled on foot, Daw recalled Muammar Gaddafi had a scratch on the left side of his forehead, while Muttassim had a bad injury to his shoulder.
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“We found a sand wall along the roadside and we took cover walking beside it,” Daw recalled in a private room adjacent to his shared cell. His speech was calm and composed and he appeared to be in good health. “Muttassim and his voluteers took the lead while Muammar, myself and Abu Bakr Younis followed behind.”
When they approached the storm water drain where Gaddafi was later found hiding, rebel troops moved in and Daw was injured losing consciousness.
Video footage taken moments later show Gaddafi being dragged from the drain and brutalized by a mob of rebel fighters. His body arrived later in the city of Misrata along with that of his son Muttassim, but permission to examine the bodies or view the autopsy results was denied to UN representatives and human rights groups. Both bodies were buried by the transitional government in unmarked graves in an unknown location.
The UN report recommended further investigation into the cause of both deaths.
Watch a video of Gaddafi's capture.
Warning: Graphic footage.