Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 6 News List

UN investigators to launch Libyan probe next week

Reuters and AFP, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND, and BRUSSELS

UN investigators yesterday said they would start next week to probe alleged human rights violations committed in Libya by both forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi and rebels trying to topple him.

The independent three-member commission of inquiry, headed by US war crimes expert Cherif Bassiouni, declined to reveal their exact travel schedule but said that it would stop first in Egypt and also would visit Tunisia and Libya.

He said the team would gather testimony and cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, whose prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also is looking into possible war crimes by Qaddafi, his sons and his inner circle.

“We are going to Libya, both the eastern and western part of Libya,” Bassiouni told a news conference in Geneva, referring to the largely rebel-held east and the government-held west.

“An investigation has to be fair, impartial and independent. This is what we intend to do. We are leaving Geneva on Sunday, we hope to return by the end of the month,” he said.

The UN Human Rights Council, composed of 47 member states, unanimously approved the inquiry on Feb. 25. The Geneva forum denounced attacks on civilians, killings, arrests and the detention and torture of peaceful demonstrators, saying they may amount to crimes against humanity.

Bassiouni said that the team had informed the Libyan government of its plans and Tripoli had issued a statement saying it would welcome them from April 15.

“We’ll talk to everyone. We will be visiting hospitals, so we’ll talk to people who are injured, we will go to prisons,” he said, adding that the team would go to rebel-held Benghazi.

Bassiouni is am Egyptian-born, US-based professor and war crimes expert who has served on previous UN human rights inquiries including a UN Security Council inquiry into war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

The other two panel members are Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian former judge of the ICC, and Asma Khader, a Jordanian lawyer and former minister.

“The mandate we have is to investigate all alleged violations of human rights law and the crimes perpetrated. It would be highly premature of us to determine who may have done what,” Kirsch said. “We are there to investigate violations that are committed in the course of an armed conflict.”

Meanwhile, NATO yesterday refused to apologize for a deadly airstrike on Libyan rebel tanks on Thursday, saying that the alliance was unaware that the opposition was using such vehicles.

“It would appear that two of our strikes yesterday may have resulted in the deaths of a number of TNC [Transitional National Council] forces who were operating main battle tanks,” said Rear Admiral Russell Harding, deputy commander of NATO’s Libya operations.

When asked if the alliance had apologized to the rebels, Harding told reporters in a video news conference from NATO’s Libya operations headquarters in Naples, Italy: “I’m not apologizing.”

“The situation on the ground, as I said, was extremely fluid and remains extremely fluid. Up until yesterday we had no information that the TNC or opposition forces were using tanks,” he said. “Our role is to protect civilians. Tanks have been used in the past to directly target civilians.”

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