ResourcesPress Release

Libya Needs to Ensure Independence of Institution Responsible for Identifying the Missing

PHR Report Recommends Steps to Facilitate Healing and Promote Accountability

For Immediate Release

A new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) points to improvements Libya should make to its system of exhuming, identifying, and reburying human remains to facilitate healing among grieving survivors and to ensure accountability for perpetrators of atrocities.

As many as 10,000 people were “disappeared” during more than four decades of rule by Col. Muammar Qaddafi, and thousands more died in 2011 during Libya’s civil war. Many were buried in mass graves with no identification. The UN Security Council has said some of the deaths may constitute war crimes.

“Exhuming the victims of Libya’s conflict and four-decade-long dictatorial rule is not only a matter of identifying human remains, but also of developing and integrating into national and local  systems those institutions necessary for truth and accountability,” said Stefan Schmitt, director of PHR’s International Forensic Program. “The legitimacy and credibility of the government in the eyes of Libyans and the international community will depend in large part on how this process of identification and repatriation is conducted.”

Schmitt led PHR’s multidisciplinary team of international experts in forensic anthropology, pathology, genetics, criminal investigations, and international law that assessed Libya’s capacity for a human identification effort in late 2012.  The team’s report, “Libyan Human Identification Needs Assessment and Gap Analysis,” provides a roadmap for the integration and development of existing resources and capacities into a Libyan forensic human identification effort. The report outlines steps that can be taken to modernize Libya’s forensic capacity for undertaking the immediate human identification effort and for the implementation of rule of law.

The report’s core recommendations are that Libya:

  • Continue with the process of implementing an internationally recognized legal framework outlawing enforced disappearances, and pass legislation defining the responsibilities of the state towards families of missing persons.
  • Create an independent institution with the specific mandate of searching for missing persons and identifying human remains. This could be a commission or an oversight board that is viewed by all Libyans as free of any bias. It needs to address the right to truth of all families with missing loved ones, without any differentiation between missing persons on the basis of language, race, sex, nationality, religion, or political affiliation.
  • Address the urgent need for families to find their missing loved ones by building national forensic capacity that is integrated into Libya’s law enforcement and judicial systems. Ensuring truth, accountability, and justice for the missing in Libya needs to be an integral part of the state’s overall responsibility to provide a sustainable and credible judicial system for its people. 
  • Protect mass graves as crime scenes to ensure that evidence is collected and preserved to guarantee all Libyans the right to the truth and justice. 
  • Recognize the importance of the mental health of people, families, and communities in societies long exposed to political oppression and civil conflict, and integrate it into the human identification effort. Psychosocial support is needed in Libya for both the families of the missing and those working on the human identification effort.

“As Libya struggles to deal with its legacy of atrocities, it has the opportunity to turn the page on that brutal chapter and to empower the families of those who have suffered the loss of their loved ones by ensuring that their country builds a strong, sustainable forensic operation,” Schmitt said. “In the long run, this will also contribute to the development of a credible and responsive judicial system, while also modeling the kind of reconciliation and united effort that the country so sorely needs.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

Media Contact

Kevin Short

Deputy Director, Media & Communications1.917.679.0110

Get Updates from PHR