The British Government must immediately halt the sale of weapons to Libya and those countries which are fuelling the deadly civil war, says human rights group.

The group, the International United Nations Watch (IUNW), believes that the sale of arms either directly to Libya, or to regimes which are providing military support to militias involved in the conflict, is hampering peace efforts and has contributed to war crimes. 

In particular the group call for an urgent investigation into the activities of Russia and the UAE, which they claim supplied rebel forces loyal to Major General Khalifa Haftar with weapons, breaking the international arms embargo. 

These weapons appear to have been used against civilians and unarmed combatants found in a series of mass graves, which would be a war crime under international law.

The IUNW report, Mass Graves in Libya: Parties involved and the role of the UN, says: "The arms embargo approved by the UN Security Council in 2011 remains in effect, but no party has been punished for violating it.

"Violations of the laws of war by the armed forces and associated foreign forces have been documented, including disproportionate and indiscriminate artillery bombardment, airstrikes and drone strikes that have killed and injured hundreds of civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure. The forces have also used cluster munitions, landmines and internationally banned booby traps in the southern suburbs of Tripoli. 

"Torture, field executions, and mutilation of the corpses of fighters were also documented by these fighters. There are recent reports that at least eight mass graves have been discovered in the town of Tarhuna, southeast of Tripoli, and other sites on the outskirts of Tripoli contain an unknown number of bodies. The Government of National Accord confirmed reports that at least 160 bodies have been discovered in Tarhuna General Hospital, some of which may have been victims of war crimes. Tarhuna was under the control of the al-Kani Militia [a militia loyal to Major General Haftar]."

Maya Garner, a spokesperson for the IUNW commented: "The UK and its allies, which played a key role in the removal of Colonel Gaddafi's murderous regime in 2011, have failed to do enough to stabilise Libya, while profiteering from the sale of weapons to Tripoli.

"Between 2008-17 the Government approved a total of 284 arms licenses, while many more were approved to countries such as the UAE have provided weapons to some of the armed militias in a deadly proxy war aimed at boosting their regional influence. The provision of weapons either directly, or indirectly to forces in Libya must stop."

The report goes on to highlight how these militias are linked to war crimes and the mass graves which contain the bodies of women, children and men dressed in non-military clothes. It calls on the UN/International Criminal Court to fully investigate these allegations and to bring those responsible to justice. 

"The International Criminal Court, which has a mandate to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Libya since 2011, issued a warrant in 2017 and another in 2018 for the arrest of armed forces commander Mahmoud Al-Warfalli, but he is still free. Al-Werfalli should be immediately handed over to the court. There were no other public warrants for crimes committed after 2011."

It goes on to say that the newly established fact-finding mission that is investigating the mass war graves and other allegations should co-operate with the International Criminal Court in its ongoing investigations.

The report goes on to set out a series of recommendations. These include: 

  • Countries that advocated the removal of the Gaddafi regime, i.e. the UK, France and the US should do more to make Libya stable and investigate mass graves in the country
  • The international community should send UN inspectors to oversee the excavation of the mass graves. 
  • More action to enforce the international arms embargo and calls on the eight countries which have breached these rules since 2020 to cease further activity
  • Calls on those countries that have provided support to militias and mercenaries such as the UAE and Russia to stop doing so immediately

Ms Garner concluded: "The current situation in Libya is a result of a failure by the UK and its allies to plan for a post-Gaddafi era, something former President Obama described as his ‘worst mistake’[1]. It created a dangerous power vacuum that was filled by a number of regional players and Russia which fuelled the conflict by supporting forces opposed to the internationally recognised government.

"We are deeply concerned that even the supposedly 'legal' sale of arms to the internationally recognised government or forces linked to them is preventing de-escalation. The arms embargo should apply to all sides and a renewed effort must be made to drive all sides to the negotiating table and compromise. This will only happen if the UK Government and its’ allies better enforce the UN arms embargo to stop sanction busting by regional players and Russia. 

"Alongside the search for peace, the international community must hold those responsible to account over the allegations of war crimes, including torture, indiscriminate shelling of civilians and the execution of non-combatants - men women and children - whose bodies have been found in numerous unmarked mass graves."


Notes to editors

International United Nations Watch (IUNW) is an international platform aiming to support and advance human rights standards, everywhere, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. 

IUNW brings together political campaigners, unionists, and human rights activists to promote, support, and advance human rights standards. That includes both civil and political rights, as well as economic social and cultural rights. 

To this end, the IUNW systematically monitors UN member states to ensure they adhere to standards of rights to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, defined by International Human Rights Law. 

IUNW also monitors UN organs and agencies to ensure that the principles set by the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are upheld and advanced at all times and to the same standard.  


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Alistair Thompson
International United Nations Watch
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