Populations at Risk Serious Concern


Civilians in Libya face possible war crimes as a result of ongoing fighting between rival armed groups and competing governmental authorities.
On 4 April 2019 Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar ordered his self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) to launch an offensive against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, heavy artillery fire in residential areas has blocked emergency services and aid from reaching vulnerable civilians and has prevented people from fleeing to safety. At least 106 civilians have been killed and over 104,000 displaced since 4 April. The UN Children's Fund has warned that an estimated 500,000 children in Tripoli are at a "direct risk" as the fighting moves into heavily-populated residential areas.

The current political crisis is a result of the 2011 overthrow of the Libyan government by various rebel forces. Despite the 2015 signing of the Libyan Political Agreement, which lead to the creation of the GNA, Haftar and the LNA continue to contest its legitimacy. Various armed militias also continue to commit extrajudicial killings, torture, abductions and have indiscriminately attacked civilian areas. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have emphasized that such acts constitute potential war crimes.

Armed militias in Libya also facilitate human trafficking and the enslavement of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. As of April 2019 the International Organization for Migration estimated that more than 663,000 migrants and asylum seekers were in detention in Libya, where many are subject to a range of abuses, including sexual violence. On 3 July 53 people, including six children, were killed in an LNA airstrike on a detention center for migrants and asylum seekers.

Since 2011 various transitional governing bodies have failed to restore peace and stability to the country. While the conflict has been presented as a battle between secular, moderate forces and their extremist Islamist rivals, in reality it is dominated by shifting personal, tribal and regional enmities and alliances.

The UN-facilitated peace process faces many obstacles and delays. The most recent LNA offensive on Tripoli resulted in the cancellation of a national conference to determine a timeline for democratic elections.

Armed groups on all sides have violated International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law. There is also evidence that competing regional and international powers have provided arms and air support to parties to the conflict, despite a UN-mandated arms embargo.

The GNA needs urgent and sustained international assistance in order to end violations of IHL, establish the rule of law and uphold its responsibility to protect.

On 26 February 2011 the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1970, calling upon the former Libyan government to cease attacks on civilians and uphold its responsibility to protect. Resolution 1973 of 17 March 2011 called upon UN member states to take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians and led to an international military intervention. Libyan rebel forces overthrew the government and murdered the former dictator, Muammar al-Qaddafi, in October 2011. Following the end of Libya's 2011 civil war, international engagement to assist in rebuilding government institutions waned.

During June 2011 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi for the alleged commission of crimes against humanity, but a subsequent disagreement over jurisdiction between Libya and the ICC ensued. On 28 July 2015 Libyan courts operated by the transitional government sentenced both men to death, although neither sentence has been carried out. On 15 August 2017 the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Major Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli of the LNA for alleged war crimes committed during 2016 and 2017.

On 7 June 2018 the UNSC imposed targeted sanctions on six individuals accused of people smuggling in Libya. On 10 June 2019 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2473 renewing the arms embargo against Libya for a year.

The UNSC should impose sanctions against all individuals and political forces who actively seek to subvert the peace process, including Haftar and the LNA. All armed groups need to uphold their obligations under International Humanitarian Law and immediately cease military operations conducted in heavily-populated areas. Regional powers need to act in accordance with the arms embargo reaffirmed under UNSC Resolution 2473 of June 2019.

All those responsible for mass atrocities during the 2011 civil war, as well as those responsible for war crimes committed during the current conflict, should be held accountable for their crimes.

Last Updated: 15 July 2019

The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see our Publications page. Libya was featured in the R2P Monitor from January to July 2012 and from November 2014 to March 2016.