By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
TRIPOLI, Libya – A United Nations team appointed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Libya has arrived in Tripoli.
The team, selected by the United Nations Human Rights Council, will travel to prisons, hospitals, and certain regions where suspected human rights abuses have occurred to determine the scope of atrocities that took place in the wake of Moammar Qaddafi’s suppression of and violence against government protestors in February.
The U.N. recommended an inquiry into alleged abuses in Libya in February, when a resolution was unanimously adopted in a special session held in Geneva. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, urging the Libyan government to take action to hold perpetrators of abuses accountable, said at the time, “Although reports are still patchy and hard to verify, one thing is painfully clear; in brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protestors.”
The team is being led by Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian legal expert, who indicated that his team would engage the Libyan government to assist with the investigation. The government has said it will cooperate. Bassiouni said his team planned to ask the government about “the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and civilian areas, civilian casualties, torture and the use of mercenaries.” Bassiouni also intends to raise the issue of foreign journalists being held in Libya. He said he has even given the Libyan government “a list of all the foreign journalists who are in detention.”
In the last week, reports have emerged that Qaddafi’s forces are indiscriminately shelling the city of Misrata, and that three people in Misrata were killed by missiles.
In addition to the U.N., Western governments and some Arab states have accused Qaddafi of ordering his forces to kill hundreds of civilians who protested his four-decade rule.
Libyan officials have denied killing civilians, saying instead that they have been forced to act against al Qaeda sympathizers trying to seize control of the country.
In addition to Bassiouni, the other members of the team include Asma Khader, a Jordanian-Palestinian lawyer and human rights advocate, and Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian lawyer who was the International Criminal Court’s first president.
Khader said the team would look into sexual crimes, including the case of Libyan woman Eman al-Obaidi who became well known after accusing militiamen of gang-raping her.
The team is expected to present their findings in June.
In addition to this investigation, the UN Security Council has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Libya on possible charges of war crimes.
For more information, please see:
BBC – UN team to start probe of human rights abuses – 27 April 2011
Reuters – U.N. investigators in Libya to probe rights abuses – 27 April 2011
Reuters – UN rights investigators to start probe in Libya – 8 April 2011
UN News Centre – UN rights council recommends suspending Libya, orders inquiry into abuses – 25 February 2011