Libya: Fact-Finding Mission a positive step towards accountability, which must be dispatched urgently

The ICJ welcomes the establishment of a Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) for Libya by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) at its 43rd session yesterday.

The resolution, titled “Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya,” mandates the FFM to investigate and preserve evidence of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed by all parties in Libya since the beginning of 2016, with a view to ensuring that perpetrators be held to account.

“This is a long overdue step in the pursuit of accountability in Libya,” said Said Benarbia, the ICJ’s MENA Programme Director.

“While parties to the conflict have escalated hostilities in recent years and Libyans have been increasingly subject to egregious violations of their rights, States have continued to prioritize politics over justice. The establishment of the FFM is a sign that international actors finally recognize accountability is necessary to end the scourge of violence in the country.”

The FFM is required to submit its written report to the HRC at the 46th session in February-March 2021, giving the FFM only nine months to carry out its work despite the ongoing imposition of COVID-19 measures that will impact its operations.

Given the FFM’s short operational period, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will have to move rapidly to appoint FFM experts and staff, allocate adequate resources and dispatch the mission. Staff appointed to the FFM should include experts in the investigation of sexual and gender-based violence crimes and the collection of evidence to a criminal standard.

“It’s imperative that the High Commissioner move quickly to dispatch this mission if it is to have any prospect of examining the full range of violations and abuses being committed across Libya,” said Kate Vigneswaran, the ICJ’s MENA Programme Senior Legal Adviser.

“The OHCHR should ensure the FFM has the full complement of skills and expertise to most effectively investigate crimes being committed in Libya, particularly the widespread sexual violence being perpetrated on women, girls, men and boys.”

The Government of National Accord, the Libyan Arab Armed Forces and all other parties to the conflict should fully cooperate with the FFM, including by granting access to the territories and population over which they have control, where possible in the context of COVID-19.

Other States, in particular those supporting Libyan actors in the ongoing conflict, should also provide full cooperation.

“The cooperation of both national and international actors is necessary for the FFM to engage with victims and preserve evidence, key components of its mandate,” Kate Vigneswaran added.

“While other international investigative mechanisms have shown it’s possible to carry out effective investigations without access to the affected territory, if Libyan actors are truly committed to the populations they assert they serve, they should be facilitating access to all forms of justice, whether national or international.”

The FFM will complement the work of the International Criminal Court in Libya, which has outstanding arrest warrants against Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled and Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf Al-Werfalli.

The evidence preserved by the FFM may be used by the ICC, as well as States exercising universal jurisdiction, in their investigations and prosecutions.


Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41 22 979 3817; e: said.benarbia(a)

Kate Vigneswaran, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, t: +31 62 489 4664, e: kate.vigneswaran(a), twitter: @KateVigneswaran


Violations and abuses of international law, including unlawful killings and attacks on civilian objects, have continued unabated in the last few months. Most recently, on 11 June 2020, the UN Support Mission to Libya reported the discovery of at least eight mass graves, mainly in Tarhuna, in which the bodies of women and children were found. Reports further indicate that the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), and their foreign allies, have laid anti-personnel landmines and other booby-traps in buildings as they withdrew from Tripoli, leading to causalities including among civilians returning to their homes after long periods of displacement. Reports of incidents involving “retributive crimes”, including the parading of corpses and looting of perceived opponents’ houses and public property, by GNA-affiliated armed groups have also surfaced.

The ICJ has repeatedly called on States to support the establishment of an international investigative mechanism for Libya, including in the interactive dialogue on the oral update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation in Libya.

The draft of the resolution adopted yesterday was numbered A/HRC/43/L.40. The official adopted version will be published by the UN in the coming weeks.


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