United Nations A/hrc/19/68

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Timeline of Events

      1. Phase 1: the protests (15 February – late February 2011)

  1. Following the mass anti-government protests in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, Libyans called for similar demonstrations to be held on 17 February 2011 against the 42-year rule of Muammar Qadhafi.89

  2. In an effort to quell the protests, the Libyan government arrested several pro-democracy activists and journalists in the first half of February 2011. Rather than quelling the unrest, the detention of two prominent activists of the Organizing Committee of Families of Abu Salim in Benghazi, Fathi Tirbil90 and Faraj al-Sharabi, triggered demonstrations in Benghazi on 15 February 2011.91 While the government promptly released the pair, the move failed to placate public anger. By 16 February 2011, protests intensified in Benghazi and began to spread to cities across Libya, including al-Bayda, Darnah, Tobruq in the east,92 Zintan in the west,93 and the Tripoli suburbs of Fashloum and Souq al-Jum’a.94 Qadhafi forces responded to the protests with lethal force, firing live ammunition including into protesters without warning.95

  3. The crackdown on protesters triggered further demonstrations. Libyans took to the streets in Misrata on 19 February 2011 and Al Zawiya and central Tripoli on 20 February 2011.96 In Tripoli, protests were particularly violent with Qadhafi forces firing on protesters97 and protesters attacking government buildings. Protests in eastern Libya continued to grow in size and number.

  4. Between 16 and 21 February 2011, some protesters and bystanders were killed in Benghazi and al-Bayda and over 200 protesters were killed in Tripoli98, with further casualties reported in Tobruq, Al Zawiyah and Misrata.99

  5. By late February 2011, people had taken up arms - seized from abandoned government depots - and clashed with security forces. Some also obtained weapons from defecting members of Qadhafi security forces. On 22 February 2011, Muammar Qadhafi, in his first public speech on Libyan National Television since the start of the protests, blamed foreigners for the problems and said that the country needed to be “purified” from protestors, whom he called “rats”.100

      1. Phase 2: Armed Conflict (late February – late October 2011)

  6. By late February 2011, an armed conflict had developed between Qadhafi forces and thuwar. In the eastern cities, the now armed thuwar forces began to organise themselves, assisted by the knowledge and experience of the defectors.

  7. By 25 February 2011, most of eastern Libya had fallen to the thuwar. In Al Zawiyah, Zintan and Misrata, Qadhafi forces either withdrew or defected. As thuwar took control, there were reprisal killings of captured Qadhafi fighters.101 Black Libyans and black migrant workers were targets for both lynching and beatings, presumably because the thuwar believed them to be mercenaries.

  8. On 26 February 2011, in response to the escalating violence and reports of serious human rights violations, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1970 imposing an arms embargo and referring the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court. Shortly afterwards, on 2 March 2011, the NTC, led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil (the former Minister of Justice), was established in Benghazi. It declared itself to be the “sole representative of all Libya” and vowed to respect human rights and the rule of law and to uphold Libya’s international obligations.

  9. In early March 2011 in an effort to regain territory lost, Qadhafi forces launched a military campaign. Battles were conducted on several fronts including Al Zawiyah, Zintan, Misrata and Ben Jawad. The eastern towns of Al-Brega and Adjabiya were the scenes of fierce fighting.

  10. On 10 March 2011, Qadhafi forces recaptured Al Zawiyah, with Zowara falling to them shortly thereafter. Qadhafi forces also besieged opposition-controlled territory in the Nafusa Mountains and Misrata and advanced eastwards. As Qadhafi forces recaptured towns, reports emerged of indiscriminate attacks, killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, disappearances and ill-treatment of prisoners.102

  11. On 17 March 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1973, authorising a no-fly zone over Libya and the taking of "all necessary measures", short of foreign occupation, to protect civilians against Qadhafi forces. Airstrikes began on 19 March 2011, averting the potential recapture of Benghazi. In late March 2011 NATO assumed control of military operations, initially coordinated by an international alliance led by the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

  12. As evidence of human rights violations mounted, the Qadhafi Government became increasingly diplomatically isolated. One by one, former allies condemned the Qadhafi Government’s human rights record and officially recognised the NTC, a move pioneered by France and Qatar. Libya’s membership was suspended from international and regional bodies including the HRC and the League of Arab States.

  13. During the armed conflict, different areas of Libya were disproportionately affected by the fighting. Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, experienced the most protracted fighting as Qadhafi forces laid siege to the opposition-controlled city from all sides and launched barrages of rockets, mortars and artillery shells, as well as cluster bombs into residential neighbourhoods, leading to numerous civilian casualties.103 Misrata’s port, the only lifeline for humanitarian aid and an evacuation route for the war-wounded, also came under fire, further endangering civilians and impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance.104 Shelling of the city was particularly relentless between mid-March and mid-May 2011, resumed in June 2011 and continued sporadically until early August 2011.

  14. Towns in the Nafusa Mountains came under sustained attack by Qadhafi forces with waves of shelling taking place from early March until late July 2011. This, together with the stoppage of supplies of food and fuel at encircling checkpoints, prompted the majority of the civilian population to flee the Nafusa Mountains.105 In mid-April 2011 Qadhafi forces took over Yafran hospital for six weeks, using it as a base of operations.106

  15. After months of a military stalemate, August 2011 saw thuwar make rapid advances. On 12 August 2011, thuwar from Misrata advanced on Tawergha, some 40 kilometres south-east. Tawergha is home to a long-standing community of black Libyans. During the siege and shelling of Misrata, Qadhafi forces had positioned themselves several nearby towns, including Tawergha. Additionally many Tawerghans had aligned themselves with the Qadhafi Government and had joined its forces. As a result, most of its population of some 30,000-35,000 fled, fearing attacks. 107

  16. On 14 August 2011, thuwar in Al Zawiyah launched an offensive, seizing full control of the town by 19 August 2011. The fall of Al Zawiyah further isolated the Qadhafi Government by cutting Tripoli off from the coastal road to Tunisia, the only supply route for food, fuel and other basic necessities. By 18 August 2011, thuwar fighters from the Nafusa Mountains had consolidated their grip on Gharyan, a strategic town controlling the southern access to Tripoli. Rapid advances were also made east of the city, with the fall of Zlitan on 19 August 2011. Simultaneously, the forces in the Nafusa Mountains gained further ground seizing control of Tiji, the last bastion of Qadhafi control in the Nafusa Mountains. Progress was also reported at the eastern front, including the capture of Al Brega by thuwar on 20 August 2011, paving the way for the capture of Ben Jawad further west.108

  17. Fighting reached Tripoli suburbs by 20 August 2011, including Tajoura, Souq al-Jum’a and Fashloum. Thuwar in Tripoli were reinforced by kataeb (brigades) advancing from the east, west and south - Misrata and Benghazi, al-Zawiyah, and Zintan, respectively. They encountered little resistance, entering the “Green Square”, symbol of Muammar Qadhafi’s 42 year grip of power, on 21 August 2011. After days of street clashes, thuwar forces stormed the central military compound in Bab al-Aziziya on 23 August 2011. Intermittent fighting continued in some parts of the city, notably the area of Abu Salim, believed to be a stronghold of Qadhafi loyalists, until around 27 August 2011.

  18. Thousands of detainees held in custody by Qadhafi forces in Jdeida, Ein Zara and Abu Salim prisons in Tripoli were freed by thuwar between 20 and 24 August 2011. Many had been disappeared from Al Zawiyah, Misrata and towns further east and had suffered torture, including electrocution, beatings, and rape while in detention. Before withdrawing, Qadhafi forces executed prisoners at several detention facilities including Khilit al-Firjan in Yarmouk and Gargur in Tripoli.109

  19. By the end of August 2011, thuwar had seized control of the vast majority of Libyan territory, with the notable exceptions of Muammar Qadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, Bani Walid, and Sabha. Qadhafi went into hiding while several of his relatives and close associates fled Libya for Algeria, Tunisia and Niger.

  20. On 9 September 2011, thuwar surrounded Bani Walid after negotiations for surrender with the town’s chiefs failed. Fighting by thuwar, continued until the fall of Bani Walid on 17 October 2011. 110

  21. Thuwar, mainly from Misrata and Benghazi, surrounded Sirte in early September 2011. Their military offensives, mounted from 16 September 2011 onwards, encountered heavy resistance. Intense fighting gripped Sirte.111

  22. On 20 October 2011, Qadhafi and his son Mutassim were captured after NATO jets bombed their armoured convoy as it attempted to escape from Sirte. Both were killed in unclear circumstances after capture but it is apparent that both were initially captured alive.

  23. Three days after the killing of Muammar Qadhafi, Mustafa Abdel Jalil formally declared Libya’s “liberation”. The “Declaration of Liberation” set in motion the transitional process outlined in the NTC’s Constitutional Declaration, adopted on 3 August 2011. The Constitutional Declaration stipulated that within 240 days from the “Declaration of Liberation”, Libyans are to elect a National Congress, entrusted with the task of appointing a committee to draft the Constitution. Once passed by the National Congress, the Constitution would be voted upon in a nationwide referendum.112 On 12 February 2012, the NTC adopted a Libyan Electoral Law; and elections for the National Congress are scheduled for June 2012.113

  24. The fall of Sirte and the “Declaration of Liberation” marked the official end of hostilities in Libya, prompting the United Nations Security Council to pass resolution 2016 on 27 October 2011 lifting the no-fly zone. NATO discontinued its operations in Libya on 31 October 2011.114

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