LFJL calls for accountability and caution in response to the ongoing violence in Sirte

August 19, 2015

Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) strongly condemns the violent acts recently carried out in the city of Sirte between 12 and 15 August 2015. Reports suggest that 57 individuals have died as a result of these recent clashes, 12 of whom were allegedly crucified and beheaded by actors affiliated to the Islamic State (IS). LFJL calls on the Libyan state and the international community to take steps to ensure accountability for these grave crimes and to prevent the further loss of life.

The ongoing conflict between non-state actors in Sirte has resulted in the use of indiscriminate shelling over recent months. These attacks have targeted residential communities and hospitals in clear violation of international humanitarian law. In addition, since 2014, several extrajudicial killings have been attributed to IS forces across Libya. These horrific acts constitute severe human rights abuses and may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law.

The Libyan state has a clear responsibility to protect its civilian population from harm from both state and non-state actors, including IS. If it fails to respond appropriately to prevent further violence it risks becoming complicit in these international crimes. LFJL therefore welcomes any acknowledgement of such responsibility by state actors and considered efforts to prevent the further loss of civilian life.

The Arab League held emergency discussions in response to the situation in Sirte on 18 July 2015 and discussed the possible creation of an armed coalition to intervene in Libya. LFJL reminds both the Libyan state and the international community that any agreed upon response must be proportionate and necessary.  If the use of an armed international response is sanctioned, its use must be limited and compliant to principles of human rights and humanitarian law. This is essential to prevent the further loss of civilian life through indiscriminate attacks. Further, the reckless use of international forces may further aggravate the already volatile political situation in Libya, extending the ongoing internal conflict and result in additional civilian casualties.

LFJL also reminds the international community of the many appropriate non-armed responses to the situation in Sirte which have yet to be exhausted. The UN Security Council Resolution 2174 (2014) authorises the Security Council to impose travel bans and asset freezes on individuals suspected to be responsible for human rights violations in Libya. LFJL urges such sanctions to be implemented, as many involved in the fighting in Sirte are alleged either to be foreign nationals or to have significant assets and relations outside of Libya.

LFJL recalls that both the Libyan state and the international community have a responsibility to hold actors accountable for violations of international law. LFJL urges Libyan state actors to carry out investigations and to prosecute individuals responsible for the reported crimes committed in Sirte and across Libya more widely.  If the Libyan state is perceived as unwilling or unable to carry out such investigations, LFJL urges the International Criminal Court to operationalise its mandate to investigate international crimes committed in Libya and to pursue arrest warrants for the individuals responsible.

International Advocacy Programme Coordinator at LFJL, Aml El-Houderi remarked, “The situation in Sirte and across Libya more widely is both one of extreme gravity and extreme sensitivity. Both the Libyan state and the international community must act with cautious urgency if the further loss of civilian life is to be prevented.  More than ever there is a need for individuals to be held accountable for their alleged criminal activities; failure to do so will further undermine the rule of law and perpetuate the perception that human rights violations are met with legal impunity.”

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