Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


Interactive dialogue with the International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Australian Statement

9 June 2011

The Australian Government thanks the International Commission of Inquiry for its field work undertaken in Libya and welcomes the Commission’s report on its investigation into all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya.

Since this report has been issued further news of horrifying human rights abuses by the Qaddafi regime have come to light, in particular the advice by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the ICC has evidence suggesting that the Qaddafi regime had ordered the rape of women.

The weight of Libyan and international opinion is clear. Qaddafi has lost all legitimacy by brutally attacking his own people. He must step down and leave Libya now to allow the Libyan people to work towards an inclusive political transition that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people.

Australia strongly urged the establishment of the International Commission of Inquiry at the Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Libya in February. We have supported the Commission’s associated human rights fact-finding mission by providing to the Commission our assessment of the human rights situation in Libya. We were pleased to learn that all parties concerned, including representatives of the Libyan regime and the Transitional National Council, cooperated with the Commission, including by providing access to incident sites, hospitals and detention centres.

Australia is concerned that Libyan forces are targeting humanitarian supplies. Australia is particularly concerned at reports that on 5 May regime military forces shelled the port of Misrata while an aid ship, the ‘Red Star One’, was unloading humanitarian supplies and evacuating civilians. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) chartered the ‘Red Star One’ with Australian donor funding. According to the reports, a number of civilians, including children, were killed by shelling or gun shots during the associated evacuation.

The Australian Government is following closely the human rights situation in Libya as it continues to be gripped by violence. The Government considers that ongoing human rights violations and abuses by the Qaddafi regime are both shocking and unacceptable. We have repeatedly urged Libyan authorities to refrain from indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Australia strongly supports the Commission’s call on the Qaddafi regime to immediately cease acts of violence against civilians in violation of applicable international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Australia strongly supports the Commission’s recommendation that the Human Rights Council remain seized of the human rights situation in Libya by either extending the mandate of the Commission, or establishing a mechanism to continue investigations into the human rights situation in Libya for at least one year.

Again, we thank the Commission for its investigation into allegations of human rights violations and abuses in Libya under extreme circumstances of hardship and insecurity.

Egregious human rights violations and abuses

Australia shares the Commission’s concerns about the reported use of heavy and indiscriminate weaponry, including the reported use of cluster munitions, by Libyan forces in their attempt to regain control of besieged towns and cities, including the city of Misrata. Indiscriminate attacks on populated urban areas and medical facilities have resulted in substantial civilian casualties.

Australia is also concerned that, according to UN information, hundreds of persons have been taken to undisclosed locations and have been disappeared or summarily executed, or submitted to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, since the start of protests in February 2011. Australia notes the Commission’s confirmation in its inquiry that the Libyan Government has indeed engaged in a pattern of enforced disappearances of people, and torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Australia notes with concern the Commission’s assessment that opposition forces had also committed some acts of torture and cruel treatment in particular against persons in detention, and attacks on migrant workers, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa. Australia also notes that human rights violations against migrant workers had also been carried about by the Qaddafi regime forces.

We hold deep concerns about the victimization of migrant workers and their families in Libya, especially in locations along the Egyptian and Tunisian border areas. Migrant workers and their families, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, have suffered violations of the right to life and are exposed to continued acts of violence, discrimination, and arbitrary detention.

We welcome the National Transitional Council’s clear statements noting its intention to respect the Geneva Conventions, respect for human rights, and its repudiation of terrorism. Australia urges the National Transitional Council to immediately implement applicable international humanitarian and human rights law, in accordance with the Commission’s recommendation.

Violations of civil and political rights

We are deeply concerned about the recurrence of violations of the right to life more generally, the right to liberty, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The violent suppression of peaceful protests across Libya is unacceptable. We are also aware of reports of extreme acts of violence, including sexual violence, in addition to acts of arbitrary detention and execution of civilians across Libya.

Treatment of women and children

While it is not known precisely how many civilians have died or been injured during the recent months of fighting, it is clear that the numbers are substantial and the dead include both women and children. Women and children also make up a significant number of those who have been displaced. We are particularly concerned by the special vulnerabilities faced by women and children.

We are deeply concerned about the reported use of sexual violence by regime security forces, in particular against women from eastern Libya and those suspected of supporting the opposition movement more broadly. We would encourage the Commission to further investigate reports of sexual violence – including the reported rape and mistreatment of Libyan woman Ms Iman al-Obeidi on 26 March in Tripoli – and any efforts by Libyan authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Treatment of detainees

We share the Commission’s grave concerns about the treatment of detainees by Libyan authorities. There are reports of assault, physical abuse and torture in detention centres. We support strongly the Commission’s call on the Libyan regime to release unconditionally and immediately those being arbitrarily detained and to reveal the names of all those in its custody, including those who have died in its custody.

Treatment of journalists

We are also extremely concerned about the treatment of Libyan and foreign journalists by Libyan authorities. Many have been killed, arbitrarily detained or physically assaulted as part of a deliberate campaign targeting journalists. Many other journalists are missing. Australia is concerned by reports of a complete disregard for freedom of opinion and expression and that Libyan authorities continue to do their utmost to prevent independent reporting by media outlets.

Refugees and internal displacement

The humanitarian situation faced by so many Libyans, migrant workers and their families is particularly concerning to Australia. As a result of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of Libyans and migrant workers have been internally displaced, are without shelter, are confined to transit centres, and lack access to basic amenities such as drinking water, adequate food and basic health services. The UN estimated that as of 31 May, 893,000 people, mostly migrants, had fled violence in Libya. Many of these people crossed into Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Algeria, Chad and Sudan.