As the conflict in Libya appears to be drawing to a close, more allegations are surfacing that war crimes have been committed, and fears have been expressed that reprisals may occur. The allegations made against the Qadhafi forces of torture and wilful killing (see here and here) are grave, but a Human Rights Watch report that alleges that Libyan dissident forces have unjustifiably damaged property, beaten individuals, and looted hospitals, homes and shops, is also disconcerting.
These allegations are at odds with the declared policy of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) which, on March 24 stated, in relation to the treatment of detainees and prisoners, that “its policies strictly adhere to the ‘Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War’ as well as with the ethical and moral values of the Libyan society”. This statement continued:
“1. Any Libyan caught whether they be military personnel or citizens recruited to cause sabotage and spread chaos, should not be titled as ‘Prisoner’ but as a Libyan brother (or sister) who has been deceived.
2. All prisoners and detainees will be provided with food, water and necessary medical assistance and will be treated humanely, without the use of aggression in any form. The NTC will vow to punish those who violate this code and will allow local and international human rights organizations to freely visit and talk to the detainees and prisoners at any time.”
Further, on May 19 the NTC launched a frontline manual on the fundamental rules of armed conflict (see here for the Manual). This has been distributed in various forms, including sending extracts as text messages on mobile phones. This manual was intended to demonstrate its commitment to do its best to ensure that its forces would adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law, and thus minimize harm to the Libyan people. In its press release no.21 (which is not on its website), the NTC stated:
“We recognise that many of those men and women who have taken up arms in opposition to the Qadhafi regime are not combatants who have been formerly trained in the laws of armed conflict. As such, these guidelines were requested in order to help instruct them, as rapidly as possible, in the fundamental rules which they must respect, in particular those relating to the humane treatment of detainees and to targeting in an armed conflict.”
Shortly after the outbreak of conflict in Libya, some expatriate lawyers established a group, Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) which has the aim of promoting human rights in Libya and, in particular, investigating and documenting possible crimes against humanity committed by the Qadhafi regime since 15 February 2011, and also human rights abuses committed since that regime came to power 42 years ago.
As the group organising Libyan dissident forces, the NTC did not want to “act like Qadhafi and his forces”, it asked LFJL to advise on the applicable rules of the law of armed conflict. Through personal contacts, LFJL assembled a small group based in the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, to draw up basic guidelines for use in the field. We were asked to focus on two areas: guidelines for the detention of captured Qadhafi forces, and guidelines on targeting. Our brief was to provide concise guidance which would set out basic legal standards with the aim of advising how the dissident forces could avoid breaching the law of armed conflict or, for that matter, expose themselves to liability under international criminal law.
Accordingly, these guidelines have two functions: to set out basic standards of behaviour, but also to provide standards of accountability. Read the rest of this entry…