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Libya: UN concern over 'horrific' reports of discovery of 8 mass graves in Tarhuna

Bodies are found in a number of mass graves in Tarhuna after the province liberated from the militia loyal to Khalifa Haftar, in Libya on June 11, 2020 [Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency]
Bodies are found in a number of mass graves in Tarhuna after the province liberated from the militia loyal to Khalifa Haftar, in Libya on 11 June 2020 [Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency]

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed concern on Thursday about horrific reports revealing that at least eight mass graves have been discovered, mostly in the western city of Tarhuna, calling for a “speedy investigation” of the “extrajudicial killings”.

The mission expressed in a statement its “deep concern” regarding “very horrible reports about the discovery of at least eight mass graves, most of them in Tarhuna.”

The mission also noted that, according to international law, the authorities: “Must conduct a prompt, transparent and effective investigation into reports of extrajudicial killings.”

UNSMIL welcomed the decision of the Ministry of Justice in the Government of National Accord (GNA) to form an investigation committee, calling on the committee to start working to protect mass grave sites: “From tampering, and to identify victims and causes of death and return the bodies to the families of the dead.”

It renewed its willingness to provide the required support if necessary.

The Ministry of Justice in the GNA formed a ministerial committee, supervised by the attorney general, which is concerned with the operations of opening mass graves, uncovering the remains and locations of their disappearance and preserving unidentified bodies until they are identified.

This declaration came after the visit of the Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to the city of Tarhuna.

“We are searching for all mass graves to identify the bodies and hand them over to their families,” Bashagha disclosed in a statement.

“It is necessary to return security to the city, and we do not want any security interventions with the assigned force,” he added, referring to the joint security force that was formed to re-impose security in Tarhuna.

Read: Libya’s GNA capture Haftar’s last stronghold Tarhuna

Violations

In turn, the Joint Committee for Monitoring and Documenting Human Rights Violations confirmed that it will continue to detect those responsible for committing the atrocities.

“We followed, through our monitoring teams, the extraction of a number of bodies from mass graves and abandoned wells in the city of Tarhuna, after liberating it from the militia,” explained the Joint Committee, with reference to the forces of Khalifa Haftar.

The committee continued: “More than 100 bodies were found inside Tarhuna Hospital, and we will spare no effort to reveal the truth and uncover those responsible for committing these atrocities and bring them to justice.”

The GNA accused the forces loyal to Haftar of responsibility for the mass graves found in the city. However, Haftar’s forces did not confirm or deny this.

Bouraoui Al-Bouzidi, general supervisor of Tarhuna Hospital, confirmed that more than 160 bodies were discovered after Haftar’s forces withdrew from Tarhuna.

Al-Bouzidi told reporters after a tour they had taken inside Tarhuna Hospital, that the number of bodies that were inside the hospital refrigerators reached 160, and most of them were transported to Tripoli and Misrata by the Red Crescent and in the presence of the Public Prosecution.

He confirmed that a number of bodies were in the hospital for months. However, the medical official did not reveal whether the bodies belonged to civilians or armed men.

On Friday, the forces of the internationally-recognised GNA regained control of Tarhuna, 90 kilometres southeast of Tripoli, the last stronghold of Haftar’s forces in the west of the country.

Since the launch of Operation Peace Storm by the GNA at the end of March, the coastal cities west of Tripoli have been recovered to the Ras Jedir border crossing with Tunisia.

This was followed by control of the strategic Air Force base, 140 kilometres southwest of Tripoli, last month.

At the beginning of this month, the GNA also completely regained the south of Tripoli, after Haftar’s forces were expelled from it following battles that lasted over a year.

The confrontations resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries, and the displacement of more than 200,000 people.

After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, Libya plunged into chaos. Two powers are currently competing: the GNA in Tripoli, and a parallel one in the east controlled by Haftar.

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