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For Immediate Release

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

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

Cambridge, Mass. - 12/20/2011

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today released a report that combines medicine, forensic science, and eyewitness testimony to paint a stark picture 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 Brigade massacre under Khamis Qaddafi on August 23, 2011 in Khalat Al Forjan, Tripoli.

Four corroborated testimonies of three detainees and one of their captors tell a story from start to finish of a three-month period of torture and imprisonment in inhuman conditions which culminated in this massacre. During an in-depth investigation into the 32nd Brigade massacre and events preceding it, PHR gathered evidence of torture, rape, and summary executions of male detainees at the makeshift detention facility.

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

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

One survivor profiled in the report described the torture and sexual violation he endured in detention prior to the massacre and his escape, “He reported that soldiers continuously beat and tortured him for three days. He recounted one particularly traumatizing episode: After pouring water over his body, soldiers wearing rubber gloves held him down, while other soldiers 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 Taser down his pants and shot repeated bursts of electrical current to his genitals.”

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

Initial reports of the 32nd Brigade massacre offered conflicting numbers and partial accounts of the events. PHR’s team of medical and forensic experts sought to gain insight into what took place and identify who allegedly ordered and carried out the alleged torture, rape, and summary executions. PHR interviewed eyewitness survivors of the massacre and an alleged perpetrator, conducted medical evaluations of surviving detainees to corroborate reports of torture, and forensically documented the crime scene for evidentiary purposes

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

“This report demonstrates the challenges that the Libyan government faces in addressing justice and rule of law in the new Libya. It is critical that the Libyan government establishes itself as unbiased, providing due process, and documenting crimes through proper investigations, which includes forensic collection and documentation of evidence,” said Stefan Schmitt, Director of the International Forensic Program at PHR. “People in Libya have been victimized and traumatized.  Many are searching for their loved ones and finding them has to be part of a comprehensive process addressing not only justice, but ensuring that it is based on sound science.”

The report includes the following recommendations:

  • PHR calls upon the international community to support institution-strengthening efforts in Libya so that domestic judicial and security institutions may establish justice and the rule of law.
  • PHR calls upon Libyan authorities to commission a needs assessment to be conducted by experts with mass fatality expertise to help Libya lay the foundation for and otherwise develop a robust plan for a comprehensive, forensically sound, national human identification effort which meets the needs for justice and truth of the Libyan people while complying with international standards. Exhumations must be conducted by experts, in full accordance with established best practices.
  • PHR calls upon Libya’s authorities to conduct investigations and prosecutions for a wide array of abuses, including those committed by all parties during the recent conflict, in accordance with internationally recognized legal standards.
  • PHR calls upon the international community, especially Libya’s neighbors, to ensure maximum cooperation with the International Criminal Court as well as domestic investigations and prosecutions.

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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