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Press briefing notes on Libya, Syria and Yemen

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 18 August 2015

(1) Libya

We are extremely concerned by recent events involving militants claiming allegiance to ISIL in Sirte, Libya. It seems that fighting erupted in the city’s 3rd district after a local imam, Khaled Ben Rajab al-Ferjani, who was known for his vocal opposition to ISIL, was shot dead on 10 August. He is reported to have been killed while resisting abduction by ISIL fighters.

Residents have told the human rights division of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) that most civilians had fled the area where fighting was taking place by the morning of 13 August. The district was reportedly indiscriminately shelled by ISIL forces during the fighting. The total number of fatalities is currently not known, but unconfirmed estimates received by UNSMIL range between 4 and 38. By 13 August, ISIL had reportedly captured at least 16 men from the 3rd district, and we have serious concerns about their safety. Witnesses have reported seeing four bodies hung from poles in three separate locations, including a roundabout, in Sirte. It is unclear at this point whether these individuals were killed during the course of the fighting or had been summarily executed. UNSMIL’s human rights division is seeking more information about this incident.

UNSMIL and OHCHR have previously expressed deep concern at apparent reprisals carried out by ISIL militants against civilians in Libya whom they perceive to be opposing them. In July, ISIL deliberately destroyed at least seven homes of Sirte residents, known for their opposition, and also summarily executed a man they accused of “treason,” whose body they put on public display.

In April 2015, the bodies of three members of a prominent family in Derna were also put on public display. During its control of Derna, which lasted until June this year, ISIL also carried-out at least four public summary executions and an amputation. It seems that the public flaunting of these murders is intended to send a message to anyone challenging ISIL in Libya.

Groups affiliated with ISIL have also been targeting individuals on the basis of their religion. In April 2015, one such group released a video showing the execution of at least 28 Christians in two separate incidents in Libya. Earlier, in February, the High Commissioner condemned the beheading of 21 mostly Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIL, and urged all Libyans to unite against extremists launching attacks based on religious, ethnic, national, racial, or political grounds. Sadly, as we have seen in recent days, ISIL supporters in Libya continue to commit serious human rights abuses on a regular basis, and seem impervious to the suffering of civilians and the rule of law.

On a related note, we have issued a call for submissions to the OHCHR Investigation on Libya. In March 2015, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 28/30 which requested the High Commissioner to dispatch a mission to "investigate violations and abuses of international human rights law that have been committed in Libya since the beginning of 2014, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such abuses and violations, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full accountability".

Individuals, groups, and organisations are invited to submit information relevant to the mandate of the Investigation at the earliest possible date, and no later than 19 September 2015. Submissions can be sent to the email address: OIOL_Submissions@ohchr.org.

Submitting entities/individuals should specify if the submissions – or parts of them - should be treated confidentially. Submissions should not exceed 10 pages. Any video, audio or photographic material related to the submissions should not be submitted via this email. Please contact the investigators through email so that alternate arrangements can be made.

Further information can be found at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/OIOL.aspx

(2) Syria

The outrageous bombing of a busy local marketplace in the centre of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta of rural Damascus has deepened the intense suffering of the civilian population in the area, which has been under siege by Government forces since 2013.

According to survivor accounts, on Sunday, there were two rounds of attacks: initial airstrikes were followed shortly afterwards by surface-to-surface missiles which hit people who had rushed to the scene to help. At least 111 civilians have reportedly been killed and at least 200 others were injured -- many of whom are in a serious condition. The death toll is likely to rise, particularly since those injured are being treated in field hospitals which are sorely inadequate, given that the two-year siege of Douma has led to a serious shortage of medical supplies. The attacks also resulted in massive destruction of civilian infrastructure.

We managed to talk directly to some residents of the area, who said that the protracted siege by Government forces was the biggest problem facing them and pointed out it had resulted in more deaths and destruction than this single incident, particularly horrific though it was.

Any intentional direct attack against civilians or civilian objects as well as the use of indiscriminate weapons in densely populated areas are serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law and may amount to a war crime for which individuals can be held criminally responsible. We have repeatedly urged the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, given that calls for accountability and justice in Syria have gone unheeded for four years now.

(3) Yemen

Civilian casualties continued to be reported as a consequence of the armed conflict in Yemen. Between 31 July and 14 August, at least 119 civilians were killed or injured in Yemen. Of these at least 34 civilians were killed and 85 were wounded. Since the escalation of the armed conflict on 26 March, we have recorded at least 6,221 civilian casualties; this number includes at least 1,950 civilians killed, and 4,271 wounded.


For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 /rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org).