Libya: Violations related to mercenaries must be investigated

Human Rights

UNHR – June 17, 2020

Original Report

UN experts* today warned that reliance on foreign actors has contributed to the escalation of the conflict in Libya and undermined prospects for a peaceful resolution, “all at a tragic cost for the local population”.

The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries expressed alarm at widespread reports about the use of mercenaries and related actors, particularly since the start of the offensive by the Libyan National Army (LNA) to seize the capital Tripoli in April 2019.

“This is a breach of the existing arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council which includes a prohibition on the provision of armed mercenary personnel, as well as a breach of the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries to which Libya is party,” said Chris Kwaja, who chairs the Working Group.

The UN Working Group noted that both the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the LNA have relied on third-country nationals to support military operations, including Russian private military personnel, and Syrian, Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries.

“Parties to the conflict in Libya and the States supporting them should immediately stop recruiting, funding and deploying mercenaries and related actors to sustain hostilities,” the Working Group said. “The deployment of mercenaries to Libya only adds to the multitude and opacity of armed groups and other actors operating in a context of impunity.”

Reports have emerged that Turkey has engaged in large-scale recruitment and transfer of Syrian fighters to take part in hostilities in support of the GNA. “These fighters were recruited through armed factions affiliated with the Syrian National Army that have been accused of serious human rights abuses in Syria,” Kwaja said.

Thousands of Syrian men, including boys under 18 years, have reportedly been sent to Libya via Turkey in recent months. “We are concerned that these children come from an extremely vulnerable social and economic situation and are being exploited for the purpose of recruitment as mercenaries,” he added.

The Working Group also expressed concerns at recent reports that Syrian fighters were now being used by both the GNA and the LNA.

Further, Russian private military personnel were reportedly deployed on the Tripoli frontline to support the LNA as snipers and to direct artillery fire from at least September 2019 to May 2020 when reports about their withdrawal emerged. The name of one company, the Wagner Group, has been cited in connection with this deployment. In September 2019, some of the personnel allegedly arbitrarily detained five civilians and summarily executed three of them in al-Sbeaa village near Tripoli.

“We urge the Governments concerned to investigate all allegations of human rights violations and abuses committed or facilitated by such actors, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to provide access to effective remedies for victims,” the experts said.

“The use of these fighters is all the more concerning in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Sending them to a conflict zone shows complete disregard for the health and safety of the Libyan civilian population that has been left severely ill-prepared to face the health crisis.”

The experts have also conveyed their concerns directly to the Governments of Libya, Turkey and the Russian Federation, as well as to the Libyan National Army[1].


(*) The Working Group on the use of mercenaries is comprised of five independent experts: Chris Kwaja (Chair-Rapporteur), Jelena Aparac, Lilian Bobea, Sorcha MacLeod, and Saeed Mokbil.

This statement has been endorsed by Agnès Callamard, ; Nils Melzer,; and the : Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi and Mr. Seong-Phil Hong.

The Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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