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Setting a Path for Justice – UN Human Rights Report on Libya

Setting a Path for Justice - UN Human Rights Report on Libya

On 2 March, the UN Human Rights Council released an extensive report (over 200 pages) covering extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention, disappearances, torture, sexual violence, and attacks on civilians by armed parties in Libya. The report details activity undertaken by pro and anti-Gaddafi forces, as well as NATO’s air campaign.

As most would agree, the Human Rights Council caveats the report’s many concerns with a positive note: the interim government of Libya, led by the National Transitional Council (NTC), has consistently expressed its commitment to human rights and is taking steps to restore the rule of law. The interim government, for example, is forming a National Council on Civil Liberties and Human Rights, as well as a National Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission under the Transitional Justice Law. Besides taking steps to aid direct rule of law, the interim government is also drafting an amnesty law, which will aid in reintegration of rebel fighters (thuwar, ثوار). This is an essential step to bring militias within the rule of law.

Many shortcomings remain, though. Of pinnacle concern, the report highlights the immediate need to hold thuwar accountable for arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings. Likewise, the interim government must conduct independent investigations of all disappearances and encourage parties to divulge any information they have on missing persons. Another imperative need is to secure sites which the report alleges crimes have been committed at to allow for later investigations.

Besides atrocities and abuses, the Human Rights Council also touches upon the need for the government to facilitate the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. These actions include safeguarding returnees, such as Tawergha and Mashashiya, from violence, as well as taking steps to further reconciliation of matters that led to their displacement.

Some of the Human Rights Council’s recommendations are also essential for security sector reform. Reconstruction of Libya’s security services and judiciary needs to occur soon, for instance, but the government must take special steps to ensure that these organizations do not include any persons suspected of violating international humanitarian law (IHL) or human rights.

The report calls on many parties – the UN, international community, Arab League, NTC, etc. – to assist in efforts that will allow for the rule of law and lasting peace and reconciliation. Amongst these efforts are reintegration of displaced persons and thuwar, investigation of IHL and human rights violations, funding and training directed to allow for substantial security sector reform, and establishment of oversight bodies (Human Rights Commission and  African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights) to track implementation of the report’s recommendations.

As extensive as the report is, it cannot answer every question, nor provide every recommendation. For my purposes here, I’ve focused primarily on the present. My main concerns are with disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of thuwar, as well as rebuilding Libya’s security and judicial sectors. The report points out, however, that attention also needs to be paid to the past. Libyans surely know that they need to elucidate the crimes and practices of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime to ensure that they are not repeated.

(Photo Credit: Remi Ochlik’s photo of opposition fighters in Ajdabiya, Libya, 25 April 2011. Remi lost his life on 21 February while documenting fighting in Baba Amr, Syria. You can see many of his emotive photos here.)




Ali A. Riazi

Ali is an independent advisor on conflict and foreign affairs and an advocate for civilian protection. He has advised the Office of the Secretary of Defense, US military, NGOs, and intelligence oversight staff on topics, such as Afghanistan, civilian protection, irregular warfare, and civil-military affairs. His 13+ years of career experience have spanned humanitarian and national security circles and involved extensive experience throughout the Near East and Central Asia.

Ali earned a BA in Government & Politics (summa cum laude) and a Minor in International Development & Conflict Management from the University of Maryland, College Park. Additionally, he served as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in International Political Economy. He is currently pursuing an MLitt in Terrorism Studies through the University of St. Andrews.

Ali's other blog interests can be followed at, and he can be found on Twitter at!/ali_riazi.