Reports of "Extrajudicial Killings" in Libya

After last week’s reported capture and subsequent killing of Muammar Qaddafi, elements of the United Nations expressed various levels of concern at the incident.  Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for a probe into the killing.  Philippe Kirsch — who leads the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, which is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate violations of international human rights law in the country — called on the National Transitional Council (NTC) to ensure that detainees’ human rights are respected.  And Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, stated that the killing might constitute a war crime (watch an interview with him here).

Additionally, Jurist reports that Qaddafi’s family intends to file a complaint against NATO about the killing with the International Criminal Court (ICC).  (Qaddafi’s daughter instituted legal proceedings earlier this year in Belgium over a NATO bombing that killed several of her family members, but Belgian prosecutors declined to prosecute, citing jurisdictional reasons.)

The NTC launched an investigation into the Qaddafi killing.  According to the NTC’s deputy chief, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga:

We have issued a code of ethics in handling of prisoners of war. I am sure that was an individual act and not an act of revolutionaries or the national army. Whoever is responsible for that [Gaddafi's killing] will be judged and given a fair trial.

But the Qaddafi killing is just one of many reported incidents contributing to the international community’s growing concern over the NTC’s purported record on “extrajudicial killings.”  For instance, the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya’s report released in June indicated, among other findings, that the “Commission received several accounts of attacks on migrant workers carried out by armed opposition groups.”  The report called on the NTC “in particular to investigate [human rights and IHL violations] with a view to prosecuting cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and torture with full respect of judicial guarantees….”

Additionally, in September, Amnesty International published a report, “The Battle for Libya – Killings, Disappearances, and Torture,” that examined purported “extrajudicial killings” committed by armed opposition fighters in Libya.  Later that month, after news reports indicated that rebel forces might be guilty of committing summary executions, the NTC pledged that their detainees “have the right to an appropriate trial before an ordinary judge and according to international law.” And earlier this week, Human Rights Watch announced the discovery of 53 bodies in Sirte that were apparently victims of a mass execution committed by anti-Qaddafi fighters.

For some primers on the international legal standards proscribing extrajudicial killings, see Philip Alston’s 2010 “Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” as well as HPCR’s policy brief on targeted killing.

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