Geneva – Accountability efforts for the killings, enforced disappearances, and acts of torture that occurred in Tarhuna and other areas south of Tripoli—during the attack on the capital by retired Major General Khalifa Haftar's forces in April of 2019—should be expedited, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.
Over the last two weeks, specialized teams have discovered three new grave sites containing six unidentified bodies. The bodies are presumed to be those of people killed and buried in secret during the pro-Haftar Al-Kaniyat militia’s control of the city before its eventual rout in June of 2020.
As of August 11, teams from the General Commission for the Search and Identification of Missing Persons had extracted 286 bodies from about 100 secret grave sites in Tarhuna and additional areas south of Tripoli, according to Euro-Med Monitor's follow-up. The teams successfully identified 154 victims through DNA matching, and efforts are currently underway to identify more of the victims.
According to independent documentation and eyewitness testimonies, the Al-Kaniyat militia committed atrocities against the civilian population while in control of Tarhuna, including the brutal field execution of hundreds. Furthermore, the militia kidnapped and illegally detained others in inhumane conditions, subjecting them to various forms of physical and psychological torture.
The militia, which fought alongside Haftar's forces in their attack on Tripoli, executed mass killings that appear to have been carried out to maximize human losses and intimidate city residents. In in some cases, specialized teams discovered the remains of several members of a single family, including women and children.
The Libyan government is making concerted efforts to apprehend those responsible for these crimes. The accountability process, however, should not be limited to those who carried out the killings, disappearances, and persecutions, but should include all leaders and officials who issued orders, facilitated these crimes, or failed to intervene to prevent them and hold perpetrators accountable.
Most concerning is the attempt to get rid of some of those responsible for the crimes without putting them through the proper legal process, which would surely help reveal more details about the crimes that occurred during this period or the people who were involved in them.
In July 2021, unknown gunmen assassinated Muhammad al-Kani, the leader of the Al-Kaniyat militia, which is primarily responsible for the acts that may constitute crimes against humanity in several Libyan regions, particularly Tarhuna. Only a few months earlier, unknown gunmen assassinated Mahmoud al-Warfalli, a prominent military commander in Haftar's forces who was wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of committing war crimes in Libya.
Euro-Med Monitor emphasized the importance of not allowing those suspected of human rights violations to participate in Libyan politics. All necessary measures should be taken to ensure their exclusion from the ruling system, as their participation in it or acquisition of power may contribute to impunity, and encourage the legitimization of human rights violations.
Nour Olwan, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Media Officer, said, “Legal and moral obligations require the United Nations and the countries involved in the Libyan crisis not to participate in any agreement that would elevate war criminals in Libya to positions of power."
“Everyone must work together to ward off the perpetrators, prevent them from gaining any form of immunity, and encourage Libyan parties to agree on an electoral law that prevents the perpetrators from running for office”, she added.
The United Nations should assist the Libyan government in its investigations into crimes committed in Tarhuna and other areas south of Tripoli between April 2019 and June 2020. It should also provide all capabilities that would expedite future investigations and strengthen ongoing efforts to locate secret graves and identify additional victims.
Countries with influence on the Libyan crisis should withdraw their support for those suspected of human rights violations, and work to assist Libyans positively and constructively in resolving the country’s complex crises, which have been active since 2011.