Secretary-General António Guterres addresses during the Opening of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, Palais des Nations. 25 February 2019. UN Photo by Violaine Martin

Libya: New UNHRC mandate not serious

New members of the U.N. Human Rights Council will be elected by the General Assembly in New York during the 75th session in 2020.

Many praised the new UNHRC resolution on Libya saying it will end impunity for rights violations, but the facts that it praises the government, fails to name perpetrators, is adopted under Agenda Item 10, and is supported by Libyan government, make clear that it does not call for a serious investigation of the Libyan government’s own violations.

In a resolution adopted Monday, the Human Rights Council created a Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, just a few weeks after eight mass graves with more than 150 bodies were discovered in the country. This is the third UNHRC investigation on Libya. Typically, creation of a UNHRC fact-finding mission is strongly opposed by the country concerned which would consider it a mark of condemnation. However, the internationally recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) supported the new UNHRC mandate. In addition, the resolution, sponsored by the African Group, contained mostly praise and encouragement and was adopted by consensus under the HRC’s Agenda Item 10 for technical-assistance and capacity-building—not normally a vehicle for condemnation. This raises questions about whether this fact-finding mission will conduct a serious investigation into numerous severe human rights violations in the country.

Although Libya is in the midst of a violent civil war with the GNA being challenged by the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, it was elected to the UNHRC and took up its position as a member in January 2020. All parties in Libya, including the GNA, are guilty of egregious violations including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, attacks on journalists and forcible detention and abuse of thousands of migrants. For more information on Libya’s human rights violations see Report: Abuser states set to win top U.N. rights posts. Accordingly, a serious investigation is warranted.

New UNHRC mandate on Libya praised by human rights NGOs

Human Rights Watch hailed the measure as “a positive step toward accountability.” HRW Executive Director Ken Roth labeled it “a wake-up call to warlords and armed groups.” Eric Goldstein, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Director said it was: “a significant step toward addressing the total impunity for violations and abuses in Libya,” sentiments echoed by HRW’s Deputy Director in Geneva Laila Matar. Similarly, Amnesty International’s MENA Regional Director Heba Morayef welcomed the move as “an important and long overdue step towards ending the rampant impunity…” Other NGOs also welcomed the move.

The creation of the Libya fact-finding mission made headlines around the world, including in Agence-France Presse, Al Jazeera, The Daily Sabah, and Andalou Agency. AFP noted that the resolution expressed concern about torture and violence in detention centers and had been hailed by rights groups as “long overdue.”

New UNHRC mandate on Libya welcomed by the Libyan government

Libya’s UN-backed government applauded the resolution. In a statement to the UNHRC (see below for full statement), Libyan envoy to the UN Tamim Baiou praised the African Group and the European Union for supporting and pushing through the resolution. He concluded by saying: “We welcome this work and we hope this will be a turning point for a better future for Libya.” Libya’s Justice Ministry also issued a statement welcoming the creation of the fact-finding mission and stating that it would cooperate fully with the fact-finding mission.

UN Watch conclusions

Several factors signal that this new fact-finding mission is neither a serious human rights investigation nor a condemnation of the government.

• Agenda Item: The resolution was adopted under Agenda Item 10 which concerns mere technical assistance, rather than Agenda Item 4—the agenda item for serious human rights violations titled: “human rights situations that require the Council’s review.”

• Resolution content: The resolution contains mostly praise and encouragement for the Libyan government with only a few paragraphs of condemnation buried in the middle. However, the condemnations either fail to name perpetrators or name non-state actors like “terrorist groups” and “criminal enterprises.” While the resolution expresses concern about human rights violations in detention centers, it implies the government lacks control over these facilities.

Examples of truly condemnatory resolutions from the 43rd session include the Item 4 resolutions on Syria with 11 pages of harsh condemnations that directly implicate the government (“strongly condemns the attacks by the Syrian authorities and their State and non-State allies”; “Condemns in the strongest possible terms the repeated use of chemical weapons by the Syrian authorities”) and North Korea strongly and directly condemning the government (“Condemns in the strongest terms the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and other human rights abuses committed in and by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”) and following this up with a detailed list of violations.

• Mandate of the fact-finding mission: The mandate of the fact-finding mission set forth in paragraph 43 does not single out any single perpetrator, instead referencing alleged violations “by all parties in Libya.” While this broad language theoretically includes the government, the fact that the government supported this mandate indicates that it does not view itself as being the target.

• Government support: As noted, the Libyan government welcomed the creation of the fact-finding Mission. When the UN creates a serious investigation, it is rare for the country concerned to welcome it. Certainly, this was not the case for the United States which strongly opposed the creation of a UN commission of inquiry on “systemic racism” against “people of African descent” in the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the move “a new low” for the UN and accused the UNHRC of not being “serious about protecting human rights” when it ignores “the systemic racial disparities in places like Cuba, China and Iran.”

As noted, countries usually strongly oppose such UN mandates, attempt to prevent them from being created and refuse to cooperate with them. During the UN debate on Syria in March, the Syrian representative criticized the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria for “baseless allegations” which “tarnish the government of Syria.” In the March session, Burundi also strongly criticized the UNHRC mandate on its country accusing it of “lies and defamation” and “insulting the police.”

Full statement by Libyan UN envoy Tamimi Baiou, June 22, 2020

Libya, Mr. Tamim Baiou takes the floor:

Thank you Madam President.

Libya wishes to thank the council for its support and in helping us reach this point. We are most appreciative for the collaborative work that has got us to this point. We appreciate the great work and the efforts of the African group coordinator Burkina Faso, and the member states of the group. We also wish to thank the European Union group for their support. We are most grateful for the sponsorship of over ninety countries in support of this resolution. My government took a proactive role in demonstrating sincere interest in furthering the promotion and protection of human rights in Libya. We look forward to the collaborative work to accomplish this goal together.

The GNA, the Government of National Accord, is demonstrating that impunity will no longer be tolerated. We are now hopeful that the international community holds the same threshold for those countries that contributed to the situation in Libya by interfering in the internal Libyan affairs, unilaterally and outside the scope of the United Nations. We welcome this work and we hope this will be a turning point for a better future for Libya. Thank you.

UN Watch