x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Qaddafi regime denies war crimes in Libya, says rebels are cannibals

After a UN panel said last week its investigators found evidence that government forces were guilty of murder, torture and sexual abuse, Libyan diplomat issues vehement rejection of allegations.

A Libyan rebel fighter: Qaddafi's regime claims its opponents are 'cannibals'.
A Libyan rebel fighter: Qaddafi's regime claims its opponents are 'cannibals'.

GENEVA // The regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi yesterday vehemently denied accusations by a United Nations panel and western nations that Libyan government forces had committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Libyan diplomat Mustafa Shaban told the UN Human Rights Council it was the government that was "the victim of a widespread aggression" and blamed the news media, opposition and African and foreign mercenaries for human rights violations and even "acts of cannibalism".

Mr Shaban's comments came after the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said on Wednesday that he was investigating whether Colonel Qaddafi provided Viagra to Libyan soldiers to promote rape. A UN panel said last week its investigators found evidence that government forces were guilty of murder, torture and sexual abuse.

Mr Shaban said the government "denies and reaffirms its denial of the existence of widespread and systematic violations of human rights, done with the knowledge of the authorities, by order of the Libyan authorities or covered up by them".

"We also deny indications of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians, or extrajudicial killings, or arbitrary arrest, detention and torture, or other abuses indicated in the report," he said, blaming international condemnation of his government on "fabricated and erroneous information reported by media that is hostile to my country, giving a wrong picture of the situation".

The three-member panel of UN investigators also said they found evidence that rebel forces had committed some acts that would constitute war crimes in fighting estimated to have killed between 10,000-15,000 people.

The panel chairman, Cherif Bassiouni, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago, said many of the abuses turning up were hallmarks of Colonel Qaddafi's four decades in power, such as disappearances of people and support for terrorism abroad.

"This is a regime which has basically got a pass on all sorts of violations," said Mr Bassiouni, an Egyptian, who was assisted by the Jordanian jurist Asma Khader and the Canadian Philippe Kirsch, a former judge at the International Criminal Court. "There's no one you talk to that doesn't feel deeply traumatised."

Mr Bassiouni said that for Colonel Qaddafi "to think he can buy his way out of it as he has in the past" was quite logical, at least from his point of view.

The president of the Human Rights Council, the Thai ambassador Sihasak Phuangketkeow, said a vote this month could extend the UN panel's investigative work in Libya through to March 2012.

"We're very concerned with the violations of human rights that are taking place," he told reporters. "We must address all violations." European and US diplomats said they, too, believed Colonel Qaddafi's regime must be held accountable.

"The documented evidence is substantial and clear, that the Qaddafi military and paramilitary actors committed atrocities, allegedly crimes against humanity, and war crimes against their own people," said the US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe.

However, Mr Shaban questioned how the protest movement could be called peaceful when it was heavily armed. The opposition to Colonel Qaddafi's government also is backed by a nearly three-month-old air campaign led by Nato that is pounding his regime's command compound and a range of other targets.

The UN panel also investigated allegations that Nato air strikes in Libya have caused large numbers of civilian casualties. The alliance has conducted thousands of air strikes as part of its UN mandate to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians in Libya.

Mr Shaban told the Geneva-based council that Colonel Qaddafi's opponents had "even admitted to acts of cannibalism" without further elaboration, and that the Libyan government would "reserve our rights to prosecute the media".

Mr Bassiouni told reporters that "concerning cannibalism, we've never heard of such a thing".

He also said that government and rebel forces had each accused the other of having a "policy of rape", including handing out Viagra and contraceptives to promote sexual violence. Investigators were told of three specific cases in Misurata that have yet to be investigated, he said, and would be war crimes if evidence was found.

The former Libyan diplomat Ibrahim Aldredi, who defected to the opposition, told reporters in Geneva the Benghazi-based rebels accepted the findings of the UN panel and would help prosecute and punish any perpetrators of human rights abuses.

Even if there were violations by rebels "they are not going to be as systematic as those committed by the regime", he said.