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UN commission reports war crimes by both sides of Libya conflict

The UN International Commission of Inquiry on Libya submitted its findings [report, PDF] on Friday, reporting that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by both sides of the recent Libyan conflict [JURIST backgrounder]. Established in February 2011 by an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council [official website], the Commission was mandated to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated. With respect to the national Libyan forces of former leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], the Commission "concluded that international crimes, specifically crimes against humanity and war crimes, were committed ... Acts of murder, enforced disappearance, and torture were perpetrated within the context of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population." Regarding the opposing side of the conflict, the Commission reported that the anti-Gaddafi thuwar rebels "committed serious violations, including war crimes and breaches of international human rights law, the latter continuing at the time of the present report. The Commission found these violations to include unlawful killing, arbitrary arrest, torture, enforced disappearance, indiscriminate attacks, and pillage." The Commission further concluded that NATO "conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties" but that further investigations are recommended to evaluate its effectiveness. The report concludes that the Libyan interim government must equally investigate all abuses regardless of the perpetrator, and that Libya will need continued support from the UN and the international community at large to overcome "a legacy of more than 40 years of serious human rights violations and deterioration of the legislative framework, judicial and national institutions."

Allegations of war crimes and human rights violations during the Libya conflict have been widespread. Last month Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report accusing the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) [official website; JURIST news archive] in Libya of allowing the abuse and torture of Gaddafi supporters [JURIST report] by unofficial militias. In October AI alleged that Libyan forces arrested nearly 2,500 people who face ongoing torture and detainment [JURIST report] without formal charges. In September the NTC vowed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses after AI published a report [JURIST report] alleging that both sides of the Libya conflict are responsible for human rights abuses and warning the NTC to act quickly to investigate these allegations. That same month the NTC assured world leaders that Libya will be a society of tolerance and respect [JURIST report] for the rule of law. During a meeting [BBC report] in Paris chaired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil [BBC profiles] vowed to administer elections and draft a new constitution for Libya within 18 months.

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