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Physicians for Human Rights Calls for the Protection of Evidence of Atrocities in Libya

Stefan Schmitt examining forensic evidence, Libya 2011

August 2011

In view of the latest news on the apparent discovery of mass graves and mass killing sites in Libya, and amidst allegations of human rights violations by various armed actors throughout the months-long conflict, PHR calls for the immediate protection of all evidence and witnesses so that war crimes can be fully investigated.

Protecting evidence of any and all crime scenes will ensure that independent investigations of alleged war crimes can take place. Without such protection, evidence of past atrocities, as well as those that have occurred during the recent conflict, may be lost, and the people of Libya will be denied a critical opportunity for justice and accountability.
 
To ensure that evidence is protected, the Transitional National Council, backed by the international community, should take the following steps:

  1. Establish a mandate as to which crimes will be investigated in order to establish jurisdiction.
  2. Ensure that crime scenes are properly and independently identified and that any subsequent evidence is secured from any manipulation by unauthorized personnel and/or degradation. Access should be controlled and limited to proper authorities.
  3. Document each crime scene and secure evidence by proper authorities and/or personnel with the necessary forensic capacity.
  4. Guarantee the independence and neutrality of any investigative and/or forensic authority.
  5. Document human remains through proper medico-legal examinations and ensure steps are taken for scientific identifications at some later stage/when possible. If burials need to take place, bodies should be buried individually in a controlled fashion (e.g., with identity tags), ensuring that they each one can be found and examined at a later date. Chain of custody and evidence standards should be upheld.
  6. Provide witnesses of war crimes/mass atrocities with the proper personal protection, if necessary.

PHR has provided forensic evaluations and prepared evidence of war crimes and testified at various international bodies, including tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the Special Court of Sierra Leone.

 

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