UN investigators uncover war crimes evidence in Libya

Researchers single out Wagner, accusing Russia's secretive military company of killing detainees

The Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya presents findings at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. EPA

UN investigators on Monday concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed by all parties fighting in Libya, quoting evidence of murder, torture, enslavement, rape and use of child soldiers.

The Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, which was launched by the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, said migrants and detainees had suffered particularly harsh conditions, often languishing in detention with little hope of due process.

“Our investigations have established that all parties to the conflicts, including third states, foreign fighters and mercenaries, have violated international humanitarian law,” said Mohamed Auajjar, chairman of the investigation.

“Some have also committed war crimes.”

Investigators said they had identified people and groups – both Libyan and foreign – who were behind the alleged breaches, abuses and crimes. The list will remain confidential until it can be shared with a body that has the power to prosecute offenders.

Libya has been riven by conflict since the 2011 ouster and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a Nato-backed uprising, with rival administrations vying for power. Elections in December initially touted as a pathway to peace are threatened by a political crisis.

Mr Auajjar and his fellow investigators Chaloka Beyani and Tracy Robinson were appointed last August to probe abuses in Libya since 2016. They reviewed hundreds of files, interviewed some 150 individuals and conducted research in Libya, Tunisia and Italy.

Their report documents the recruitment and direct participation of children in fighting, the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings of prominent women and widespread abuses against African migrants transiting through Libya headed to Europe.

According to Mr Auajjar, civilians “paid a heavy price” when forces from Eastern Libya launched an offensive from 2019-2020 against the UN-recognised government in the capital, Tripoli, which ended in a stalemate.

“Airstrikes have killed dozens of families,” said Mr Auajjar.

“The destruction of health-related facilities has impacted access to health care, and anti-personnel mines left by mercenaries in residential areas have killed and maimed civilians.”

In that offensive, Russia, Egypt and others backed the eastern forces, while Turkey backed the government in the west.

The investigators accused mercenaries from Wagner, a secretive Russian security firm, of shooting prisoners, saying in their report that its personnel “may have committed the war crime of murder” and laid land mines near buildings that had killed civilians.

Wagner does not typically comment on its activities overseas. Russian President Vladimir Putin said last year that any Russians who were fighting in Libya were not part of Russia’s security forces.

Major combat in Libya has been paused since last year after an advance on the capital by the eastern forces was pushed back in 2020, and both sides have accepted a ceasefire and unity interim government. An election is planned for December.

Updated: October 05, 2021, 6:58 AM