UN set to probe Libyan human rights violations

Investigators say they will gather evidence, cooperate with the International Criminal Court
UN set to probe Libyan human rights violations
United Nations in session.
By Reuters
Fri 08 Apr 2011 01:51 PM

United Nations investigators

said on Friday they would start next week to probe alleged human

rights violations committed by all sides in Libya's conflict and

share evidence with the UN war crimes tribunal.

The independent commission of inquiry said its mandate was

to investigate abuses by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the

rebels fighting to topple him, and foreign parties involved in

the conflict.

The three-member team, headed by American war crimes expert

Cherif Bassiouni, declined to reveal its exact travel schedule

but will stop first in Egypt and also visit Tunisia and Libya.

It would gather testimony and evidence widely, including on

rape and use of mercenaries, and make every effort to protect

witnesses from reprisals.

"We'll talk to everybody. We will be visiting hospitals, so

we will be talking to people who are injured, we will be going

to prisons, we'll talk to people who are in prison," the

Egyptian-born Bassiouni told a news conference in Geneva.

"We will be talking to combatants, civilians, any available

source of information will be addressed," he said.

The team would travel to largely rebel-held eastern Libya

and the government-held west and attempt to reach besieged towns

including Misrata, depending on the security situation. "Our

work will be done on both sides with complete impartiality."

It has told the government of its plans and Tripoli issued a

statement saying it would welcome them from April 15, according

to Bassiouni.

He said the team was cooperating with the International

Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, whose prosecutor Luis

Moreno-Ocampo also is looking into possible war crimes by

Gaddafi, his sons and his inner circle.

Moreno-Ocampo has said Libyan authorities had decided they

were ready to kill unarmed protestors even before unrest spread

from neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.

"We don't work for the ICC, they don't work for us. We have

a mandate, they have a mandate. We have, however, decided that

we are going to have a collaborative relationship," Bassiouni

added.

The UN Human Rights Council, composed of 47 member states,

unanimously approved launching the inquiry on February 25. The

Geneva forum denounced attacks on civilians, killings, arrests

and the detention and torture of peaceful demonstrators, saying

they may amount to crimes against humanity.

Bassiouni, asked whether the inquiry would look into any

crimes by foreign powers, said: "If you read the mandate, it

said human rights violations in Libya. It doesn't say by whom,

it doesn't say against whom. Period. Whoever commits a violation

will be reported."

"Now, whether that rises to the level of criminal

accountability and how this is communicated to the ICC or other,

we'll cross that bridge when we reach it," he said.

Libyan government officials say NATO airstrikes have killed

civilians, including children, in areas under Gaddafi's control

although the alliance says it has not seen evidence that this is

the case. NATO said on Friday its aircraft probably killed

rebels in a friendly fire incident a day before near the oil

port of Brega. Rebels have said five of their fighters died.

The other two panel members are Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian

former judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Asma

Khader, a Jordanian lawyer and former minister.

Khader, an expert in sexual crimes, said it would look into

rapes, including the case of a Libyan woman Eman al-Obaidi who

last month accused pro-government militiamen of gang-raping her.

"We all watched the case of Obaidi and we heard that there

are other women in the same case. Of course it will be one major

part of our investigation."

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