[JURIST] The beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians by members of the Islamic State (IS) [JURIST backgrounder] are war crimes, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] said [press release] Tuesday. The Egyptian Christians were abducted from the Libyan city of Sirte in two separate incidents [CNN report] in December 2014 and January 2015. Video released on Sunday showed members of the self-described Tripoli Province of Islamic State beheading the captives on a beach in Libya. In response to the killings, Egypt’s military carried out airstrikes [NYTreport] against IS militants in Libya. AI called on the Egyptian authorities to provide the victims’ families with psychological support and financial compensation. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] also characterized [press release] the killings as war crimes.
Libya remains politically unstable nearly four years after the 2011 uprising [JURIST backgrounder] and subsequent civil war that deposed Muammar Gaddafi. In December the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) [official websites] released a joint report [JURIST report] describing civilian populations in Libya being subjected to shelling, abduction, torture, execution and deliberate destruction of property. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] attributed the potential war crimes to a feud between two Libyan governments and several military groups. In November Chief Prosecutor for the ICC Fatou Bensouda [official profile] warned that increasing violence and political instability in Libya are impeding measures to end impunity [JURIST report]. Earlier that month the Supreme Court in Libya declared the UN-backed elected parliament unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In October Amnesty International released a report accusing rival militias in Libya of committing serious human rights abuses [JURIST report], including war crimes.