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New Report Provides First In-Depth Forensic Account of Libyan Massacre

Policy recommendations provide a road map for investigating alleged crimes & ensuring justice

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today released a report thatcombines medicine, forensic science, and eyewitness testimony to paint a starkpicture of life and death in detention in Tripoli. The report, “32nd Brigade Massacre: Evidence of war crimes and the need to ensure justice and accountability in Libya,”provides a detailed and comprehensive forensic account of the 32nd Brigademassacre under Khamis Qaddafi on August 23, 2011 in Khalat Al Forjan, Tripoli.

Four corroborated testimonies of three detainees and one of theircaptors tell a story from start to finish of a three-month period of tortureand imprisonment in inhuman conditions which culminated in this massacre. Duringan in-depth investigation into the 32nd Brigade massacre and eventspreceding it, PHR gathered evidence of torture, rape, and summary executions ofmale detainees at the makeshift detention facility.

PHR’s investigation highlights the urgent need for Libya toestablish due process, document crimes to the highest forensic standards, andacknowledge victim’s right to know the truth about their loved ones within atransitional justice process addressing grievances on all sides.

The report also includes policy recommendations for theLibyan government and international community to investigate these allegedcrimes as a first step toward providing justice, establishing the rule of law,and beginning a comprehensive and technically sound search for the missing ofas part of such a process.

One survivor profiled in the report described the torture andsexual violation he endured in detention prior to the massacre and his escape,“He reported that soldiers continuously beat and tortured him for threedays. He recounted one particularly traumatizing episode: After pouring waterover his body, soldiers wearing rubber gloves held him down, while othersoldiers used a Taser-type stun gun inflicting severe pain all over his body.With tears in his eyes, he told how one of his torturers inserted the Taserdown his pants and shot repeated bursts of electrical current to his genitals.”

“The death of Colonel Qaddafi meant he was never held accountablefor untold numbers of egregious abuses, during four decades of tyrannous rule,”said Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights. “However, otheralleged war criminals from both sides of the recent conflict remain at large andmust be brought to justice. Holding these individuals accountable is the mosteffective way to end the cycle of violence and establish the rule of law.”

Initial reports of the 32nd Brigade massacre offered conflictingnumbers and partial accounts of the events. PHR’s team of medical and forensicexperts sought to gain insight into what took place and identify who allegedlyordered and carried out the alleged torture, rape, and summary executions. PHR interviewedeyewitness survivors of the massacre and an alleged perpetrator, conductedmedical evaluations of surviving detainees to corroborate reports of torture, andforensically documented the crime scene for evidentiary purposes

The evidence PHR gathered from interviews places high-rankingmilitary authorities at the scene of the crime, demonstrates their intent tocarry out the massacre, and documents their plans to conceal and destroyevidence of their crimes.

“This report demonstrates the challenges that the Libyan governmentfaces in addressing justice and rule of law in the new Libya. It is criticalthat the Libyan government establishes itself as unbiased, providing dueprocess, and documenting crimes through proper investigations, which includesforensic collection and documentation of evidence,” said Stefan Schmitt,Director of the International Forensic Program at PHR. “People in Libya havebeen victimized and traumatized.  Manyare searching for their loved ones and finding them has to be part of acomprehensive process addressing not only justice, but ensuring that it isbased on sound science.”

The report includes the following recommendations:

  • PHR calls upon the international community tosupport institution-strengthening efforts in Libya so that domestic judicial andsecurity institutions may establish justice and the rule of law.
  • PHR calls upon Libyan authorities to commissiona needs assessment to be conducted by experts with mass fatality expertise tohelp Libya lay the foundation for and otherwise develop a robust plan for acomprehensive, forensically sound, national human identification effort whichmeets the needs for justice and truth of the Libyan people while complying withinternational standards. Exhumations must be conducted by experts, in fullaccordance with established best practices.
  • PHR calls upon Libya’s authorities to conductinvestigations and prosecutions for a wide array of abuses, including thosecommitted by all parties during the recent conflict, in accordance withinternationally recognized legal standards.
  • PHR calls upon the international community,especially Libya’s neighbors, to ensure maximum cooperation with theInternational Criminal Court as well as domestic investigations andprosecutions.

An Arabic version of this press release is now available.

    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.

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