Libya Peace Summit: Berlin talks must prioritize accountability for war crimes

from Amnesty International
Published on 17 Jan 2020 View Original
  • Amnesty International field investigation unearthed potential war crimes in battle for Tripoli
  • Spokespeople available for interview after visiting 33 strike sites on both sides of the frontline

Protection of civilians and justice for victims of violations must be the cornerstones of any peace deal emerging from a UN-led summit in Berlin on Libya’s armed conflict this Sunday (19 January), Amnesty International said today.

The conflict – which escalated last April with the attempted military takeover of the capital Tripoli by Khalifa Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) – is taking place against a backdrop of periodic armed clashes which have taken a heavy toll on the civilian population.

In October 2019, Amnesty International released the only in-depth field investigation to date across the Tripoli frontlines. The organization visited 33 air and ground strike sites in the capital and surrounding areas and unearthed evidence of potential war crimes by both the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the LNA.

In the course of the investigation, the organization identified several instances where civilian homes and infrastructure were destroyed or damaged by ground-launched rockets, artillery barrages, and air strikes carried out by both sides, killing and injuring dozens.

“We witnessed up front the devastating aftermath of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks – including possible war crimes – by both parties to the conflict, who continue to violate international humanitarian law with military and other support from countries including the United Arab Emirates and Turkey,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty International.

The organization carried out rigorous post-blast investigations at the strike sites, many of which confirmed evidence of foreign involvement in the conflict. Despite a comprehensive UN arms embargo in place since 2011, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – among others – have been supporting the LNA and GNA, respectively, through illicit arms transfers and direct military support in attacks on civilians or which have impacted civilians. Increasing evidence has also emerged of the participation of Russian mercenaries in the conflict in support of the LNA.

According to UN statistics, more than 284 civilians were killed and more than 140,000 displaced as a result of the armed conflict in Libya in 2019. A UN statement on 3 January 2020 denounced an escalation in indiscriminate strikes that endangered schools, medical facilities and other civilian infrastructure in and around Tripoli, including Mitiga International Airport.

“The international community, including all those participating in the Berlin summit, must uphold the UN arms embargo on Libya and work with the UN Human Rights Council to urgently establish a commission of inquiry or similar mechanism to preserve evidence of war crimes and other violations and pave the way for justice and reparation for the victims and their families,” said Donatella Rovera.

“The warring parties in Libya must immediately cease indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and fully comply with the rules of international humanitarian law, investigate reported violations, and end the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects.”

The conflict has also exacerbated the already dire predicament of thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya, including many who have been contained in Libya as a result of the cooperation between European governments and Libyan authorities. Amnesty International has long documented how the EU and Libya’s shared policy of intercepting migrants and refugees and returning them to Libya has exposed them to prolonged arbitrary detention, torture or death, including in indiscriminate or targeted attacks.

EU states attending the summit must reset their cooperation with Libya and cease any measures that lead to the containment of people in the country. They should pressure Libyan authorities to end the policy of prolonged arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants and step up work towards the evacuation of refugees and migrants from the country, including through resettlement and alternative pathways to protection.