UN, rights group call for investigation into Libyan forces after execution video

ISIS prisoners in Libya facing execution
A screen capture of a video circulating on social media that purportedly shows members of the Libyan National Army executing ISIS prisoners. Reuters

The United Nations Human Rights Office and a human rights group are calling for Libyan officials to investigate forces involved in possible atrocities, after a video appeared on social media purportedly showing a military unit executing 20 suspected militants.

The video was seen by Reuters on social media but it could not be independently verified. It appears to show a military unit linked to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar executing 20 hooded men they accuse of being Islamic State militants found guilty of bombings and killings.

The video is the latest that appears to show Haftar’s Libyan National Army troops engaged in summary executions of suspected militants. An LNA spokesman in Benghazi declined to comment on the video but it has previously denied its forces are involved.

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“This latest mass execution, if confirmed, would be one more in a string of atrocities committed by members of the Libyan National Army forces and is yet another manifestation of how its members are taking the law into their own hands,” Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said.

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Last week, Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a press release that the UN was “deeply concerned” that people taken prisoner by the Libyan National Army “may be at imminent risk of torture and even summary execution.”

Responding to this new video, she said, “The latest video circulated online further highlights how crucial it is for the Libyan National Army group to conduct a full impartial investigation, and share findings publicly.”

The UN Human Rights office had urged the LNA to investigate on July 18 and reiterated its call on Tuesday. “The LNA leadership must take concrete steps to prevent further abuses, and should publicly condemn such abuses.”

“All parties must treat prisoners humanely and fully respect international humanitarian law, and the LNA should act to uphold the public commitments it has made in this regard.”

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The UN had heard several reports recently of summary executions of at least 10 men, as well as seen videos in March and June showing such executions that appeared to be carried out by LNA forces.

The LNA had announced in March that it would conduct investigations into the alleged war crimes “but it has not shared any information regarding the progress of these inquiries” according to the UN.

Goldstein said the LNA and the Libyan government need to remove from duty those accused of violations and hold them accountable if found guilty after a transparent investigation.

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“A failure to do so risks implicating senior military commanders in these apparent war crimes,” he said.

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The video purports to show an LNA commander reading out a statement before rows of men kneeling in orange jumpsuits with black hoods over their heads and their hands bound. LNA forces move row by row to fire into the back of their heads and bodies.

“Executed by firing squad after they were found guilty,” a caption on the video reads.

The video did not explain how the men had been found guilty, but armed groups in Libya often say they are legitimate forces that carry out their own investigations and have been accused of torturing and abusing prisoners.

Power struggle

The video was released in a week when the Libyan National Army general Haftar and Fayez al-Serraj, the leader of Libya’s UN-backed government, are meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris for talks over a political agreement to end the factional fighting that has engulfed the country since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Haftar’s LNA is one of the most powerful military forces in the country, gaining ground in the east and the south with the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates who back his campaign against Islamist militants. Despite the name of Haftar’s group, Libya has had no national army for years.

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Talks are centred on creating a propitious climate for elections next year — which the Libyan prime minister announced plans for in May — security and military issues, respect for human rights and economic development of the oil-rich nation where residents struggle despite the resources, French officials said.

The meetings in Paris are expected to end with a joint declaration between the two Libyans, which the French have billed as a first.

— With files from Global News and the Canadian Press