The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor published a brief report documenting cases of execution, torture and mutilation of dead bodies during the ongoing clashes near the Libyan capital, Tripoli, pointing out that these acts may amount to war crimes.
The international rights organization, based in Geneva, said that since April 4, 2019 the armed clashes between the forces of retired general Khalefah Haftar and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) have killed more than 600 people and the injured about 3,000. In addition, more than 82,000 civilians were displaced from areas that witnessed bombings and exchange of fire in southern Tripoli.
According to the report, the Euro-Med team documented grave violations including killing of civilians and targeting residential houses and health facilities. The organization also obtained testimonies documenting the extrajudicial executions and the heinous multination of dead bodies carried out by the Haftar forces against the GNA fighters after capturing them alive.
The report reveals that according to the testimony of Mohammed al-Faqih, a fighter in the GNA forces, he said that while he was withdrawing from a military site south of Tripoli after being under heavy fire, he encountered Abdel Salam Nouri Abu Dabbous, a fighter in the GNA counterterrorism force, married with four children. He added that after they talked a little about the reason for the withdrawal and agreed to meet after a tour of the place, he completely lost connection with Abdel Salam, which made him believe that he was captured.
Al-Faqih said that he received a call from an unknown person the next day to find out later that it was a fighter in the Haftar force of the Ijdabiya operations room led by Fawzi al-Mansouri. He told him that someone wants to talk to him. He found out that it was Abdel Salam, who asked him to contact some military commanders of the GNA to release him in return for prisoners from the Haftar captured in Zawiya city at Gate 27.
According to al-Faqih, he spoke to Abdel Salam capturers, and asked them to keep him safe until the exchange process takes place. The prisoners also provided him with information about the whereabouts of Abdel Salam and the name of the commander of the force that holds him at Ijdabia operations room.
Until the 29th of April, the contact with Abdul Salam was lost, until the 166th Battalion of the GNA took control of Al-Sabia hospital south of Tripoli where they found him a dead body in one of the refrigerators of the dead, which was deliberately cut off electricity.
Al-Faqih confirmed that the forensic doctor's report revealed that the death was on the 15th of April, 10 days after speaking with him over the phone. He explained that Abdel Salam was tortured with a sharp instrument, and was stabbed in his legs and ears, and in many other parts of his body, leaving holes in different parts of his body.
Mohammed Abu Dabbous, the victim’s brother, said that his family had contacted Fawzi al-Mansouri and Muhammad al-Buwaishi, leaders of the Haftar forces, to secure his release and exchange him for other prisoners. His family received promises to release him as soon as he finishes the military procedures.
Mohammed adds that he was shocked when he received the body of his brother to bury him. The body shows signs of brutal torture. It also shown the effects of gunshots fired from a close range, cigarette burns around the eye, hits on all joints of the body, in addition to signs of torture with whip and sharp tools, and a shot in his ear which damaged his head as the forensic report confirmed.
In a similar case, Mohammed Mesbah Jibril, a fighter in the 166th Battalion of the General Staff of the GNA, was tortured after his capture by the Haftar forces near Ain Zara south of Tripoli, according to his brother's testimony to the Euro-Med team.
He said that Mohamed received a military order on April 4, 2019 to join the forces defending Tripoli. Five days later, Jibril received the news of his death in the battles that took place near Al-Zahra bridge south of the capital.
The military vehicle that was carrying Mohammed was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and remained in the areas where the clashes took place. Before the arrival of the GNA forces, Mohammed had disappeared from the car and the other two bodies remained, which raised doubts about his death.
The victim's brother said that after several attempts to communicate with him, one of Hafter's fighters picked up the phone, and started throwing insults and threats of killing Mohammed, and continued to repeat the words: “We made him a carrion. He died. Don't look for him. He died like a dog,” in reference to the brutal way he was killed. A while later, the family received a picture of Mohammed, he was dead and hanged on the back of a tank. His body was brutally mutilated amid laughter and mockery from the Haftar fighters.
Mohammed’s brother explains the difficult psychological situation that his wife and sons had to go through after seeing some of his pictures after death. The family's efforts become focused on getting the body and burying him in a dignified manner. According to Mohammed’s brother, intensive efforts were made to get the body for burial through the Red Crescent and other intermediaries, but they failed and threatened with death if the deceased's relatives returned to claim his body. In this context, Mohammed’s brother added that a team from the Libyan Red Crescent completed some procedures for receiving the body but failed after they received death threats from the Haftar forces at Al-Sibya Hospital as they were told: “Either you go or we will kill you and put you in the refrigerator instead of him.” The victim's brother said that they didn't receive the body only after the forces of the GNA seized Al-Sibya Hospital. When they reached to the body, it was getting decomposed as a result of the separating of electricity deliberately from refrigerators.
M.T. says that his brother, a 25-year-old fighter in the GNA forces, who was captured with two of his comrades in their car. All of them were brutally killed by shooting certain parts of their bodies so that they could bleed for a long time in order to continue torturing them by tying them up to armed vehicles and dragging them on the roads. According to M.T., the Haftar forces contacted the mother of one of the detainees to share moments of torture. The caller asked the mother of the victim to hear the screams of her son under torture, before shooting him and trampling him by an armored vehicle on the highway.
The International Humanitarian Law, represented by the Four Geneva Conventions and their Protocols, prohibits violating personal dignity and humiliating and degrading treatment, even if it was the dead bodies of the enemies, the Euro-Med stressed. The International Humanitarian Law also states that the parties to the conflict must search for the bodies of the dead from the other side and take all the necessary measures to prevent insulting them.
Moussa al-Qunidi, a legal researcher at the Euro-Med, said that the atrocities referred to in the report reflect the extent of disregarding the rules of international humanitarian law by the conflicting parties, and highlights the absence inevitability of accountability and punishment.
Al-Qunaidi pointed out that Article 8 of the ICC Convention states that violations of the Fourth Geneva Conventions are considered war crimes. He stressed that the violation of the inviolability of the dead during military operations constitutes a breach of these conventions. Therefore, those who committed these heinous crimes must be held accountable regardless of the circumstances which prompted them to do so, as acts of reprisal are absolutely prohibited and cannot be invoked to carry out acts contrary to the provisions of the law.
He explained that the crimes documented by the Euro-Med belong are war crimes in accordance with the Statute of the International Criminal Court, specifically Article 8/ A/3/6 and Article 8 and paragraphs B/6/10/11/12 and C/E/1/2/4/11.
He added that the Libyan Criminal and Penal Law stipulates that insulting dead bodies is a crime that requires accountability and prosecution. Articles 293 and 294 of the Libyan Penal Code criminalizes damaging and concealing of dead bodies for not less than one year. However, Al-Qunaidi says that the sanctions imposed by Libyan law are not deterrent enough, which requires the intervention of the legislative authorities to amend the punishment of this act commensurate with such brutality.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor called on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to start an immediate investigation into the crimes committed against the Libyan prisoners by the Haftar forces and to prosecute those responsible for these crimes as they represent a threat to international peace and security and since they are a flagrant violation of the international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in particular.
The Euro-Med called for all influential parties in the Libyan conflict to pressure concerned parties to put an immediate end to the military operations and to engage in a comprehensive national dialogue to reach a peaceful solution to end the ongoing armed conflict in the country.