Washington's move suggests to international law experts that Haftar's crimes against humanity may not go unpunished for much longer.
The US unilaterally blacklisted armed militia group Kaniyat along with its leader on Wednesday in Libya, a week after Russia prevented a UN Security Council Committee from imposing sanctions on it over its human rights violations.
In a written statement, US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said; “Mohamed al-Kani and the Kaniyat militia have tortured and killed civilians during a cruel campaign of oppression in Libya.”
Mnuchin added that the United States stands with the Libyan people and will use the tools and authorities at its disposal to target human rights abusers in Libya and across the world.
Accusing the pro-Haftar Kaniyat group of being responsible for torture and pillaging, forced disappearances, displacement and murder of detained civilians, Mnuchin's statement said:
“In June 2020, following a de facto truce, GNA-aligned forces re-entered Tarhouna and discovered at least 11 mass graves containing the bodies of civilians previously detained by the Kaniyat militia, including women, children, and elderly. Some of the deceased appeared to have been tortured, burned, or buried alive.”
”The Kaniyat militia is also responsible for hundreds of summary executions at Tarhouna prison, numerous forced disappearances, and the displacement of entire families from Tarhouna”.
Earlier this month, the US and Germany proposed that the 15-member Libya Sanctions Committee at the UN's Security Council should impose an asset freeze and travel ban on Kaniyat militia and Al Kani.
Russia, a Security Council member, blocked the proposal saying Washington's evidence against al-Kana and his militia was not sufficient.
The extent of human rights abuses allegedly carried out by the Kaniyat militias came to the fore in June this year when GNA forces liberated the city of Tarhouna from their stranglehold and found several mass graves. The city’s residents also spoke about large-scale human rights abuses committed by the militia.
Why the US doesn’t impose sanctions directly on warlord Haftar
Mesut Hakki Casin, a professor of International Law at Yeditepe University, told TRT World that Washington's decision against Haftar's ally Al Kani is a "welcome step," which makes it "possible to say that warlord Haftar has no future in Libya."
“Haftar came to the fore in Libya after NATO’s operation. Libya is a state of tribes and when the Skhirat agreement was signed in 2015, GNA was formed and the US didn’t oppose it in the UN. Then the US started diplomatically negotiating with GNA which means recognising it in terms of international law,” Casin said.
“Prior to future 2022 elections in Libya, the crimes warlord Haftar committed against humanity, killing of civilians and targeting civilian settlements has to come to the fore which were all forbidden by the Geneva Convention,” he added.
According to Casin, the US tolerated Haftar's presence in Libya because of its "pragmatism" and to "slow down Russian activities."
“Thanks to the Turkey’s political and military support to the UN-backed government of GNA, the international community was clearly able to see the crimes committed by Haftar and militia groups who have been fighting alongside the warlord such as the mass graves in Tarhouna,” Casin said.
Berdal Aral, a professor of International Law at Istanbul Medeniyet University, says that once the relationship between the Kaniyat militia group and Haftar is proved, the US sanctions would be applicable to Haftar as well.
“The sanctions against the Kaniyet militia group and its leader is just a beginning. Once the link between the militia and Haftar is established, Washington will have to cut all its ties with Haftar,” Aral said, adding that the warlord is likely to be punished as more evidence of war crimes committed by the militias at his behest will surface in the near future.
Aral argued that the UN Security Council should convene a session on the matter and move the case to the International Criminal Court.
The Global Magnitsky act
Under the Global Magnitsky Act, the US can apply sanctions on any entity or person involved in human rights abuses anywhere in the world. They can even freeze foreign assets of abusers and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.
The law came into effect after the death of Russian tax advisor Sergei Magnitsky, who was investigating the financial embezzlement worth $230 million allegedly by 18 top ranking Russian officials. Magnitsky lived in Moscow but worked for London-based investment fund, Hermitage Capital. He was arrested in 2008 by Russian police and 11 months later, he died in their custody. As per media reports, Magnitsky was subjected to torture and denied life-saving medical treatment.
In 2016, US Congress voted to expand it into the Global Magnitsky Act which allowed for sanctions against human rights abusers in other parts of the world.
The act remains supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties. The original law was signed in 2012 by Barack Obama. Donald Trump endorsed its enlargement in 2016.