States call for extension of mandate of Commission of Inquiry into situation in Libya


On 9 June 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry (the Commission), which was created under Council resolution S-15/1 adopted at the Council’s 15th special session. The Commission was mandated to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya and present a report to the Council's 17th session.


On 9 June 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry (the Commission), which was created under Council resolution S-15/1 adopted at the Council’s 15th special session. The Commission was mandated to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya and present a report to the Council's 17th session.

The report was based on field visits to Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia; meetings with high level officials from the Gaddafi regime and with representatives of the National Transitional Council (NTC); victims, witnesses, doctors, detainees, and refugees, amongst others. The report concludes that what started as peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations aiming at reform were met with violent opposition by the Government, escalating into what is now a civil war. The Government's excessive use of force against civilians constitute acts of murder as well as other grave violations of human rights, and are part of a systematic attack against the population. According to the report, these violations amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. The report also focuses on the violations committed by the opposition but concludes that these violations do not amount to crimes against humanity because they were not considered systematic. In his introductory statement, the Chair of the Commission, Mr Bassiouni, emphasised the need for further investigations into ongoing events in Libya, more extensive field visits, and, most importantly, the need to ensure full accountability if the goals of stability and post-conflict reconciliation were to be met.

The work of the Commission was largely welcomed by States, with some questioning its conclusions in relation to violations allegedly committed by the armed opposition forces and the NATO operations. Towards the end of the session, the Human Rights Council is expected to adopt by consensus a resolution renewing the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, and asking it to report back to the 18th session of the Council in September. However, it is unclear if the level of importance and the significant demands for resources called for by Mr Bassiouni during the interactive dialogue will be met.

The dialogue with the Commission had been previously postponed due to a disagreement over whether Libya should be represented as the concerned country, despite its rights of membership in the Council being suspended. The President’s final decision to allow Libya (with representatives from Tripoli) to respond to the Commission's presentation of its report, was questioned by many States throughout the dialogue. Iraq questioned the UN’s recognition of the Government seated in Tripoli given the fact that many of the Council’s member States have actively supported the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the suspension of Libya from the Council. Spain pointed out that Libya is divided in two, with two authorities, and to have only one side represented is ‘not worthy’ of the Council, in particular as Spain recognises the NTC as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. Conversely, some delegations, such as the EU, Italy, Denmark, and Australia, expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to hear the Tripoli-Government’s statement, explaining that this allowed for a more open dialogue.

Although the NTC was not represented directly, Jordan presented a statement on its behalf, in which it thanked the Commission for its work and commended the report as professional and objective. The NTC expressed its determination to implement the conclusions of the report and investigate allegations, and supported the continuation of the Commission's mandate. Jordan’s statement and its role as the representative of the NTC were met with support and agreement by many other States.

The statement made by the Libyan delegation representing the Gaddafi regime was, in contrast, widely rejected. The Gaddafi-delegation rejected all allegations made in the Commission's report, stating that international community has misunderstood the Libyan situation and this misunderstanding has been exacerbated by the media. The truth, according to the representatives from Tripoli, is that the legitimate protests only lasted for a few hours on 15 February 2011, and were dealt with appropriately, but were then used by criminals and armed rebels as a stepping stone to incite insurgency against the legitimate government. The delegation stated that Gaddafi's government has lodged an official complaint against NATO's alleged targeting of civilians. The Libyan statement was adamantly refuted by the EU, the UK, France, Mauritania, and others. The Maldives made a particularly strong statement against the Libyan regime, condemning it as illegitimate and stating that it was ‘ashamed’ to be in the same room as those who represent such a regime.

Although most States explicitly commended the Commission for its work, several expressed concerns over the credibility of some of the information in the report and questioned some of the conclusions. Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) was concerned about the report's claim that the violations committed by the opposition do not amount to crimes against humanity. It cited alleged violations committed against African migrants workers suspected of being mercenaries, and requested further clarification of the claim that these were not widespread, systematic attacks against civilians. Both the Russian Federation and Venezuela questioned the impartiality of the report, in particular the failure to hold NATO accountable for violations. The Russian Federation questioned why the Commission had been unable to verify or otherwise information provided about NATO actions, despite the apparent presence of witnesses to the consequences of those actions.

Nevertheless, the majority of the States expressed support for the resolution extending the mandate of the Commission, although some States, such as Malaysia, requested more information on the future aims of the Commission, were its mandate to be extended.

In his concluding remarks Mr Bassiouni set out some of the future plans of action for the Commission, assuming its mandate is extended, focusing on assisting the NTC in reestablishing the rule of law, ensuring accountability and ending impunity. To achieve this, Mr Bassiouni emphasised the Commission's need for permanent observers stationed in Libya, a database of violations and the resources to analyse that data in order to assign accountability as a means of future reconciliation, increased military intelligence including to identify what is and what is not a valid military target, and financial and human resources. In remarkable frankness, Mr Bassiouni emphasised that without adequately allocated resources, the Commission's tasks will become purely bureaucratic which ‘the members of the Commission have no interest’ in carrying out.

Following the dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry, on 10 June 2011, the Council held a short interactive dialogue addressing the High Commissioner for Human Right’s report on the situation in Libya. The report was presented by the High Commissioner, Ms Pillay. Ms Pillay presented her report by reiterating her concern about the continuing human rights violations and, more specifically, the plight of migrant workers, refugees, and children. She highlighted human rights violations such as sexual abuse, torture, and enforced disappearances.

Besides Ms Pillay, the Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mr Khalikov, also spoke. He highlighted the need for a permanent solution to the unrest to be found soon and illustrated this need by offering disconcerting statistics concerning the number of people affected by the conflict (such as those who have been displaced, forced to flee, or are in urgent need of help). Additionally, Mr Khalikov noted that the Libyan banking system has collapsed (resulting in a shortage of cash), and that there is also a severe shortage of vaccines and medicines. He too highlighted possible sexual violence. Mr El Hillo, Director of the Regional Bureau for North Africa and the Middle East for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), offered specific statistics on the situation of refugees, stating that, since the beginning of the crisis, an estimated 1 million people have fled Libya to nearby States including Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, and Chad.

During the dialogue, Argentina highlighted the importance of the Council continuing to monitor the human right situation in Libya. Palestine and Spain asked for the High Commissioner's views on the priorities with regards to dealing with the ongoing violations. Palestine specifically asked what remedies were envisioned for victims. The UK asked for more information on the impact of the conflict on children and Jordan noted the statements in the report on sexual violations committed against women and asked for more detailed information on this. Additionally, the USA, France, and the EU explicitly condemned all human rights violations against the civilian population.

In her concluding remarks, Ms Pillay emphasised in particular the need to protect and support journalists and the media, since much of the work done by OHCHR is based on their information.


  • Middle East and North Africa
  • United Nations
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Libya