Independent anti-war groups comment on the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya

The recent Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya is available here:
Here we provide with three comments. The first one by the international lawyers Ngo North-South XXI, the second one by two Italian associations which sent a letter to the President of  the UN Human Rights Council. The third comment (with a lot of details) comes from the independent organization Human Rights Investigations (not to be confused with Human Rights Watch!).
While welcoming the application of international law to the continuing deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya, Nord-Sud XXI is concerned by the Commission's incredous application of international law to to NATO's bombing of the Libyan population.
We request the Commission to provide the following information which is completely lacking from its report or is poorly presented as to undermine the credibility of associated assertions:
1. Does Commission have a list of the bombs dropped in over 18,000 sorties over Libya? If so why was this important information not recounted in detail? if not, why was this important information not provided?
2. Does the Commission have a list of all sites bombed by NATO? Again if so why was this not included in the report? If not, why was this important information not provided?
3. Did the Commission examine whether NATO acted within the mandate provided to them by the UN Security and indeed whether even this limited mandate was legal and consistent with international law? Is it not true that if NATO acted beyond the mandate provided by the UN SC or if that mandate was inconsistent with international law that NATO was prima facie violating international human rights law by it extraordinarily excessive use of force?
Italy, March 8th, 2012
To the Human Rights Council President
Comment on the COI on Libya, by some Italian peace associations
Dear President,
On behalf of the association Peacelink ( and of the No War Network, I send you this comment on the Coi report on Libya, on the basis also of our field experience during the war in Libya and on reports coming from our contacts in Libya as well as from some journalists.
Here are our few remarks.
According to the Report’s findings, whilst NATO had conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties, on limited occasions, the Commission confirmed civilian casualties and found targets that showed no evidence of military utility. The Commission investigated 20 NATO airstrikes, and found that in five of them a total of 60 civilians died and 55 were wounded.
In our opinion the Commission

  • Failed to examine whether NATO acted within the mandate provided to them by the UN Security and indeed whether even this limited mandate was legal and consistent with international law
  • Investigated in only 20 NATO airstrikes, over 18,000 sorties, and did not provide any list of the bombing sites
  • Failed to study many more cases of alleged civilian casualties
  • Did not take into account that during the 50 days-long  siege of Sirte, NATO totally violated its mandate to protect civilians because indeed Nato used its aerial force to bomb civilians areas and to…protect the armed NTC (“rebels”) members who were: sieging the city, using against the city indiscriminate weapons such as Grad missiles, not allowing even IRCR to  enter, putting in danger the lives of the sieged civilians and depriving them of the essential livelihoods.

A few initial comments:
Tawerghans – to be ‘wiped off the face of the planet’
The report supports Human Rights Investigation’s position regarding the crimes committed against the Tawerghans. The report confirms our reporting on the ethnic cleansing (although they do not use the words) of the town of Tawergha:

In the months after Tawergha was emptied of its population, houses and public buildings continue to be looted and destroyed by the Misratan thuwar.
The Commission found that roads into the town had been blocked. The Commission observed houses being set alight. Buildings appeared to have been bulldozed. The Commission observed that the word “Tawergha” had been scratched off road signs. The words “New Misrata” has been written over them.
The Commission notes that the Misratan thuwar have been open about their views of the Tawerghans. One fighter told the Commission he thought that Tawerghans deserved “to be wiped off the face of the planet”.
The language reportedly used by the Misratans during the arrests was often of a racist and derogatory nature, for example calling them “slaves”, “blacks”, and “animals”. Some have been told that they cannot ever return.
Worryingly it is clear these crimes are continuing:
The Commission documented a pattern of severe torture perpetrated in particular against Tawerghans by Misratan thuwar, who accuse them of committing rapes and other crimes in Misrata.
Detainees told the Commission that they confessed to serious crimes including rape – that they denied committing – after they could no longer withstand the torture.
According to eyewitnesses, as recently as 6 February 2012 Misratan thuwar attacked the Tripoli IDP camp and killed five Tawerghans, including an old man, a woman, and three minors.
The Commission received multiple reports that, in the months which followed the capture of Tripoli, there were arbitrary arrests of Tawerghans by Misratan thuwar on the streets of Tripoli. Their whereabouts often remain unknown. Those who have been released report being beaten.
The Commission has documented multiple incidents of Tawerghans held in detention in Misrata being subjected to torture. The Commission has examined corroborating injuries on victims.
In conclusion the report says:
The Misrata thuwar have killed, arbitrarily arrested and tortured Tawerghans across Libya. The destruction of Tawergha has been done to render it uninhabitable.
Murder, torture and cruel treatment, and pillaging which occurred during the hostilities constitute a war crime. Where they have continued since, they violate international human rights law.
The torture and killing by Misratan thuwar would also, given the widespread and systematic manner in which they have occurred here, be capable of constituting a crime against humanity and the facts indicate crimes against humanity have taken place.
As was documented at the time, NATO provided air cover for the attack on Tawergha and must have been aware of the genocidal intent of the rebel leaders which was reported, previous to the assault on the town, in the Wall Street Journal.
NATO, and the politicians who gave approval for the attack, should be held to account for complicity in this “crime against humanity.”
Mercenaries – a myth
Interestingly, despite what you will have read and been told almost everywhere else (including repeatedly by Human Rights Watch) the Commission finds no evidence of the use of “mercenaries” by the Libyan government forces. As we said at the time, in time of war the word “mercenary” is a precise legal term and the use of this term in Libya had terrible consequences for guest workers and dark-skinned Libyans.
Indeed, we called the various acccusations of the use of sub-Saharan Africans as mercenaries, made by the likes of disgraced ex-British Defence Minister Liam Fox and Prime Minister David Cameron, incitements to racial violence: it is now clear that these allegations were also without basis in fact.
Those NATO leaders and politicians who whipped up racial violence in Libya through the use of inflammatory language and the spreading of the mercenary myth should be held to account.
The deaths of Muammar and Mutassim Qadhafi
The report says:
In relation to the death of Muammar Qadhafi, the Commission was not provided access to the autopsy report despite numerous requests to the authorities.
It goes on to say that is is unable to ascertain if the death of Colonel Gaddafi was an unlawful killing. The same goes for Mutassim who we showed video footage of captured but alive and who then (mysteriously) turned up dead:
In relation to the death of Mutassim Qadhafi, the Commission has reviewed video footage showing him alive and in the custody of thuwar post-capture, but has been unable to obtain any account of the circumstances of his death. Consequently, the Commission has been unable to confirm the death of Mutassim Qadhafi as an unlawful killing and considers that further investigation is required.
The inability of the Commission to assign any responsibility for the unlawful killing of Muammar and Mutassim indicates that the findings of the Commission, whilst finding both sides responsible for numerous war crimes, are in fact extremely conservative in assigning responsiblity for the crimes committed by the NATO and rebel parties to the conflict.
No evidence of overall policy of sexual violence
The compromised ICC Prosecutor infamously described a policy of mass-rape ordered by Colonel Gaddafi himself and fuelled by viagra. Unsurprisingly, the Commission found evidence of rapes committed by people on both sides of the conflict but:
The Commission did not find evidence to substantiate claims of a widespread or a systematic attack, or any overall policy of sexual violence against a civilian population.
The current ICC Prosecutor should have been sacked years ago, but hopefully this episode marks the end of any shred of credibility the man may have left.
Information provided by NATO inadequate
The report pussy-foots around NATO war crimes saying (as requested by NATO) that NATO “conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties.”
However the authors do say:

On limited occasions, the Commission confirmed civilian casualties and found targets that showed no evidence of military utility. The Commission was unable to draw conclusions in such instances on the basis of the information provided by NATO and recommends further investigations.
It is clear that NATO have on the one hand refused to cooperate fully with the report authors, whilst on the other (as can be seen from the correspondence published) pressurising them to include NATO-speak in their report.
Attack on Sirte ‘clearly indiscriminate.’
The UNHR report includes further information on the destruction of Sirte:

The Commission found that almost every building exhibited damage. The most common damage and weapon debris observed was from Grad rockets, and heavy machine-gun fire from 14.5mm and 23mm weapons.
Dozens of buildings are uninhabitable due to their structural integrity being compromised, with multiple walls and roofs collapsed. Numerous buildings exhibited impacts from shells consistent with fire from 106mm recoilless rifles and 107mm rocket artillery, using both High-Explosive Anti-Tank rounds and High Explosive Squash Head rounds.
Although some of the buildings were likely used by the Qadhafi forces and were therefore legitimate targets for attacks, damage was so widespread as to be clearly indiscriminate in nature.
The question, which the Commission appears to dodge in the report, has to be – to what extent did NATO arm, supply, direct and permit this “clearly indiscriminate” attack on the town of Sirte.
The current situation in Libya
The current human rights situation is alluded to in the report – 1,000s of people detained without charge or any legal process and the widespread use of torture and disappearances:
The Commission has received information of attacks, including unlawful killings, torture and arbitrary arrests by thuwar on members of the former government and those perceived to be among its supporters. The Commission is not aware of any thuwar arrested or detained for these crimes…
The Libyan authorities face considerable challenges in dealing with recent and past violations. They are likely to have difficulties in processing the approximately 8,000 detainees currently in custody.
The detainees (many migrant workers falsely accused of being mercenaries) should be released immediately and the people who have committed human rights violations on both sides should be held to account. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen as authority in Libya now rests largely in the hands of feuding militias who, as the Commission report makes clear, were responsible for many of the worst atrocities of the conflict.
(NB: We’ll provide further analysis after going through the bulk of the report, which is contained in Annex 1 ((A/HRC/19/68) to the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya Report)


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