Evidence points to war crimes by Libyan National Army forces
Shocking video evidence has emerged showing fighters from the Libyan National Army (LNA) carrying out execution-style killings of captured fighters from the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR) in the Ganfouda area of Benghazi, said Amnesty International. The two separate incidents may amount to war crimes, adding to the long list of crimes under international law that have been committed with impunity by armed groups and militias in both Western and Eastern Libya.
In the first of two videos that have been circulating on social media and were verified by Amnesty International, an LNA fighter is seen shooting three captured SCBR fighters with what appears to be a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle as they kneeled on the ground facing a wall, with their hands tied behind their backs. In the second video, a group of LNA fighters taunt, humiliate and drag a captured fighter along the ground before shooting him dead.
“The deplorable conduct of members of the Libyan National Army in these videos, which show the fatal shooting of defenceless captives, violates international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International.
The deplorable conduct of members of the Libyan National Army in these videos, which show the fatal shooting of defenceless captives, violates international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime
LNA forces have announced an investigation into the incidents, and a spokesperson for them told Amnesty International that the individuals responsible for the killings had been apprehended and would be investigated. The LNA also issued a statement describing the unlawful killings as “isolated” incidents carried out by individuals, and ordering military units in Benghazi to ensure those responsible for violations are handed to the military police and brought to military trial.
However, in July 2016, the bodies of 14 men were found dumped in al-Laithi area of Benghazi after being recaptured by the LNA. The men had their arms bound before they were shot dead. Neither the LNA nor the state’s law enforcement agencies have conducted effective investigations into these or other summary killings in the country.
Slim hopes for justice
Previous calls for investigations have not resulted in transparent prosecutions that have held members of the security forces or militias accountable - even in cases where there has been clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Given Libya’s track record of impunity for war crimes and serious human rights violations and abuses, promises to investigate these latest crimes ring hollow, and prospects of justice for victims and their families are dim.
The institutional breakdown in 2014, following a power struggle that split the country between regional factions, has further obstructed the judiciary and its ability to carry out its functions. Abductions, summary killings, torture, enforced disappearances and other human rights abuses are carried out by armed groups and militias with complete impunity in both Eastern and Western Libya.
“A credible, independent and impartial investigation into these incidents is vital to send a clear message to those who commit or order horrendous crimes that they are not above the law and will not go unpunished,” said Heba Morayef.
“Given Libya’s dire record on accountability it is even more crucial for the International Criminal Court, which has active jurisdiction in Libya, to expand its investigations to cover ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country.”
A credible, independent and impartial investigation into these incidents is vital to send a clear message to those who commit or order horrendous crimes that they are not above the law and will not go unpunished
Both incidents took place in the Ganfouda area of Benghazi, formerly one of the last strongholds held by the SCBR forces. In recent weeks, the SCBR lost further ground to the LNA and its fighters were pushed into a small enclave of buildings known as Block 12 in the south-western neighbourhood, where clashes between the two sides intensified.
Ganfouda had been under military blockade for months, with LNA forces controlling the roads in and out of the area. Food, water and electricity supplies were also cut off, creating a dire humanitarian situation for families that remained trapped.
Other alleged LNA violations
Amnesty International reviewed alarming photos shared by sources close to family members of individuals in Ganfouda showing LNA members posing alongside dead bodies, burning corpses of victims, as well as desecrating the dead body of Jalal al-Makhzoum- a senior SCBR commander.
International humanitarian law prohibits mutilation of dead bodies and parties to a conflict must also endeavour to return the deceased upon the request of their families.
The dead bodies in the images include individuals believed to have been trapped in Block 12 and killed during the recent clashes. While Amnesty International was not able to independently verify the photos, a source close to the family of the victims, confirmed the identity of three of the deceased.
Amnesty International spoke to three separate sources close to the families of those trapped in Block 12. They said that once the LNA forces appeared to be gaining ground in the area, the families decided to flee. The remaining fighters - some of whom were wounded - along with their family members, including elderly people, and children, were loaded into vans that drove towards the al-Sabbri area of Benghazi.
A source closely associated with the victims told Amnesty International that one of the vehicles, which was carrying at least four families, broke down near the Juliana Bridge approximately 5km away from Block 12. At this point, they allegedly came under attack by LNA forces. An exchange of fire ensued, which led to the LNA forces capturing all those inside the van. Another source told the organization that five members of one family -- a mother, her two daughters and two sons - who had been travelling in that van were later found dead. Their family was able to confirm their deaths after photographs of their dead bodies surfaced online. Other families remain missing.
The circumstances of this incident remain unclear, and Amnesty International is unable to independently verify the full details. A spokesperson for the LNA told Amnesty International over the phone that no civilians were killed during this incident. He said that five young civilian women had been captured and handed over to the Ministry of Interior “to be returned to their families”.
He also stated that the LNA has no civilians in their custody. However, reports from family members of those who fled contradict these claims and suggest that a number of civilians were killed, including children.
“All parties to the conflict must ensure that civilians are protected as is required by international humanitarian law. Those civilians who wish to leave the area must be granted safe passage and be protected from attacks,” said Heba Morayef.