The GNA makes alarming discovery of bodies - including women and children - that Haftar’s militias have seemingly left in their wake in former strongholds
On Thursday, Libyan officials from the UN-backed government announced that six more bodies had been discovered in the western city of Tarhuna. In a statement, the Government of National Accord, who were conducting investigations in the area, said that they came across the bodies during excavation work.
Since the UN-backed GNA forces captured warlord Khalifa Haftar’s stronghold in the city of Tarhuna earlier last month, hundreds of bodies in mass graves have been discovered by GNA forces.
Authorities announced that so far they have found at least eleven mass graves in liberated areas in which 208 bodies lay.
Furthermore, according to the GNA, women and children are included in these numbers, while at least 15 victims have been identified and handed over to families so that they can be buried in Qasr bin Gashr, south of Tripoli.
Following the first discoveries of mass graves, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, expressed deep shock and called for a transparent investigation while calling on the GNA to secure the mass graves, identify the victims, establish causes of death and return the bodies to the next of kin. Guterres’ spokesman said that the UN will offer support to the GNA in this regard.
Tarhuna is located 90 kilometres south of Tripoli and had been a major stronghold of warlord Khalifa Haftar’s militias until it was recaptured by GNA forces in early June. Tarhuna served as one of the main bases of operation for Haftar’s 14-month offensive against the UN-backed government based in Tripoli.
The discoveries of mass graves have attracted the attention of the UN, activists and international organisations, not least because their alarming presence highlights the blatant violation of human rights in territories controlled by Haftar.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on the issue last month. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, will embark on a fact-finding mission to Libya. The resolution, which came about just days after Libya's UN-backed government discovered eight mass graves in Tarhuna, strongly condemns all acts of violence in Libya.
The mission has been given the authority to "collect and review relevant information to document alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties in Libya since the beginning of 2016."
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called the discovery of bodies, including women and children, in Tarhuna, “terrifying.”
Commenting on the issue on Twitter, UNSMIL said: "UNSMIL notes with horror reports on the discovery of at least eight mass graves in past days, the majority of them in Tarhuna."
The UN resolution is mainly concerned with reports of torture, sexual and gender-based violence, as well as harsh conditions in prisons and detention centres. Information will be collected to "preserve evidence with a view to ensuring that perpetrators of violations or abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law are held accountable."