United Nations A/hrc/19/68

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  1. Al-Qalaa lies in western Libya, near Yafran in the Nafusa Mountains. Witnesses told the Commission that the area had historically suffered from repression of its Amazigh culture and language, and the local people had been quick to rise in support of the revolution.229 In mid-March 2011, Qadhafi forces reportedly under the command of [059], heavily armed with14.5mm and 106mm artillery, tanks, BMP armoured personnel carriers, and Grad rockets, arrived at Al Qalaa. Fighting began, with Qadhafi forces attempting to enter Al Qalaa on 10 April 2011 but being pushed back. The town was then reportedly sealed off with fuel, food and water supplies being prevented from entering through the installation of checkpoints by Qadhafi forces. At this stage many families were evacuated to Nalut and Tunisia. On 1 May 2011, additional forces from the 32nd (Khamis) brigade were deployed. From that point on, the town was shelled continuously from Safiet, northwest of Al Qalaa, until the Qadhafi forces withdrew towards the al-Mela’b forest on 5 June 2011.230 A boy scouts’ base on the edge of Al Qalaa was reportedly being used as a military base for the forces in Safiet as the forest behind the camp allowed tanks and rockets to be hidden from NATO.231 The thuwar reportedly found the roads leading to Al-Qalaa with landmines both Brazilian antipersonnel and Russian anti-tank mines, which led to civilian casualties.232

  2. Following the retreat of Qadhafi forces from the area in July 2011, footage uploaded to the internet, reportedly taken from the telephone of a member of the Qadhafi forces captured by the thuwar, showed a number of bodies lying in a mass grave. ​A witness told the Commission how, after watching the video tape several times, he recognised the body of someone he knew. He also recognized the location as the Al-Mela’b forest, behind the scout base where the executed persons were detained. He and others subsequently tried to enter the forest by themselves but could not due to the threat of landmines. A team of experts on landmines removed 30 landmines from the area of the mass grave before starting the exhumation.233

  3. The exhumation uncovered the bodies of 34 men and boys, lying along a low narrow natural waterway. They were fully dressed in civilian clothes. With one exception, the bodies were found with their hands were tied to their backs by wire. The bodies were blindfolded by adhesive tape. There were three other bodies lying nearby. The witness participated in the process of unearthing the bodies, from 20 August to 1 September 2011, as well as facilitating identification by families and subsequent reburial at a new site.234 One head was found disconnected from the body some meters away from the location of the common grave. The families of the deceased came to identify the bodies from their clothes, ID cards and keys. Additional belongings of persons who had been arrested were found at the nearby scouts’ base. The majority of the 34 bodies were eventually identified by local people as being from Al Qalaa; the three found separately were from Um Al-Jersan, to the east of Al Qalaa. Some of the families also recognised vehicles found burned out in front of the scouts’ base as having belonged to the victims. Many of the victims were from the same family including four fathers and their sons, and two sets of brothers.235

  4. While the Commission was unable to find the original source of the video footage, it shows a number of males of varying ages, in civilian dress, lying dead in a shallow depression. The bodies are all blindfolded with hands tied behind their backs. At least one has a visible wound to the back of the head.236 The audio on the footage has two men speaking. One appears to be the person filming it (apparently armed, judging by the shadows seen on the film). One man says “look at the dirty rats, the worms are eating them. Dogs. This is the fate of the rats. Look at this one…he is a child but he is a dog too”. The man who is filming appears to say “I don’t think this one is a Libyan, he must be Pakistani”. 237 Witnesses had mentioned to the Commission that the group of detainees included one non-Libyan, but in fact this man was a Syrian national.238

  5. The Commission located former detainees at the boy scouts’ base who had been released prior to the executions. One told the Commission that he and three others had been arrested on 25 May 2011, while out searching for food in empty houses to bring back to the town. Four soldiers had arrested them and beat them with wooden sticks, military belts and the butts of their rifles. Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were blindfolded, before being taken to the scouts’ base. After further interrogation, they were put in a room with 13 others. The detainee recalled there were six others in a room opposite. While he did not know all of those detained personally, he recognised them as all being from Al Qalaa. The commander [001], a short man in his mid-forties always in civilian clothes, was present for all interrogations. This detainee was fortunate in that, while being forced to move 14.5mm ammunition, a round went off in his hand injuring him and causing him to be sent to hospital for treatment. (The Commission was able to see that the witness was missing three fingers on one hand). The detained said that those he was arrested with and those he was detained with were all amongst those later executed.239

  6. Another former detainee accompanied the Commission to the site. He stated that he was arrested at the Al-Mela’b checkpoint (in front of the boy scouts’ base) on 4 June 2011 while returning from Tripoli. He and two others were taken into the boy scouts’ base and detained. He stated that there were 10 people in the room they were put in, all from Al-Qalaa, including a 14 year old boy. He is aware that other detainees were kept in the cafeteria. He said that on the afternoon of 5 June 2011, Qadhafi forces lost the battle in Safiet, and when they returned back to the boy scouts’ base, they were very angry, having taken a lot of casualties. He said the soldiers started beating everyone in the detention centre at random, asking if they were from Al-Qalaa, and if they responded affirmatively, beating them with electric cables, military belts, and the butts of their rifles. The Commission was able to see scars on the witness’s back, shoulders and eye - his left eye was blinded – and viewed a medical report detailing the injuries sustained. The witness reported that the soldiers subsequently put salt in the wounds inflicted. The commander [001] was present during the interrogations. When no one answered his questions, he ordered the soldiers to lift one detainee up and suspend him over an open window, so that half his body was inside the room and half outside. He was then beaten from both sides. Another detainee was suspended in the same manner over the door of the room in front of his father and beaten with electrical cables and military belts until he lost consciousness. He was then taken out of the room. The witness never saw him again but his body was one of those later found in the mass grave.

  7. On 7 June 2011, a brigadier [029] arrived, who (according to what the detainees overheard from the guards) was the deputy of [059]. Another six or seven detainees arrived later that day. The witness was released a few days later, after the guards had verified his story. He made a list of the names of those with him and was able to assist subsequently with identification. He was able to identify a number of the bodies on the video footage for the Commission (mainly by their clothes), including the man who had been hung over the window and a Syrian friend of his, whom he had known for the last 30 years. He recognised another body as that of a man whose leg had been broken during the torture and who had been bed-ridden subsequently. The bed itself was reportedly found in the mass grave, suggesting that he was carried to the execution place on it. Another was identified by a battery from a mobile phone which he had removed and put in his pocket to avoid his phone bleeping and giving away the fact he had it.240

  8. The Commission visited the site of the mass grave and saw the depression in the ground where the bodies had been buried. While the bodies had been removed, along with the majority of cartridge cases during exhumation by a team including international specialists, a number of rifle cartridge cases remained at the scene along with some skeletal remains which the Commission’s forensic pathologist identified as those of an adult human left foot, namely 3rd, 4th and 5th metatarsals, along with the talus and the calcaneus.

  9. While the witnesses knew some details of those in command at the site, they were unable to specify which military or intelligence units to which the soldiers at the boy scouts’ base belonged . Other sources suggest they may have been belonged to the Popular Guard (Haras al-Sha’abi). Graffiti around the base reportedly referred to the “Storm Forces”. Officers from Military Intelligence were also reportedly present, as well as members of the External Security Agency (Amn al-Kharaji).241

      1. Yarmouk

  10. After the February 2011 demonstrations started, an informal detention centre was established in an agricultural store adjacent to the base of the 32nd (Khamis) Brigade at Yarmouk, in the Khilit al-Ferjan area of Tripoli. The 32nd (Khamis) Brigade and the base itself were controlled by the son of Muammar Qadhafi, Khamis Qadhafi.242

  11. The warehouse was already receiving prisoners by March 2011 at the latest. The former detainees interviewed by the Commission had mainly been brought there in June 2011, by which time there were reportedly, up to 50 detainees in a space 20m by 9m. They were all accused one way or another of supporting the thuwar.243 They had been brought there from as far away as Zlitan 244 and Garabulli (60 km from Tripoli)245 as well as from Tripoli itself.246 By the beginning of August 2011, numbers had risen to a reported 90.247

  12. Detainees told the Commission that water and food were distributed rarely. They were not allowed out to use latrines and were forced to urinate in plastic bottles.248 (During its visit to the site in December, the Commission observed a number of bottles on the site filled with dark brown liquid which were identified by former detainees as having been used for this purpose.249) All the former detainees interviewed, as well as one of the former guards, confirmed that torture and ill-treatment was routine at the warehouse, with prisoners being beaten and electrocuted.250. On the basis of those testimonies, torture was carried out by numerous individuals, including [070].251 The torture of detainees led to their death in at least four cases. One week before Ramadan [044] and [038] were interrogating one of the detainees, in the office attached to the warehouse. They beat the detainee to death. [007] threw the body behind Camp 27. Three engineers, who were working for a communication company died under torture in Yarmouk at the end of May 2011 during interrogation by an officer called [025] - they were subjected to electric shocks and severely beaten with sticks, having been accused of communicating with NATO and providing information on military locations. After they died, [007] took their bodies and threw them in the sea at the end of Camp 27.252

  13. The immediate commander of the centre was [056], supported by a Sergeant [030].253 [056] reported to Brigadier [028] and reportedly at that time commanding the Khilit al-Ferjan zone in which Yarmouk is located. Brigadier [028] in turn at that time reported directly to Khamis Qadhafi, although he denied this to the Commission. The guards themselves appear to have made little secret of their names and a total 15 names were provided to the Commission both by former detainees and by guards now in custody themselves. One of the guards had even written his name in graffiti on the wall of the centre. The guards were named as [080, 019, 070, 066, 017, 037, 060, 036, 038, 065, 067, 056, 044, 054, 064, 007].254

  14. By the third week of August 2011, when the thuwar were closing in on Tripoli, the number of detainees had risen to 157.255 On 23 August 2011, at approximately 4pm, (3-4 hours before the massacre), Khamis Qadhafi, [028] and [056] were together at the warehouse in Yarmouk. Later, Khamis reportedly called and instructed [056] and [030] to “conduct the operation” and then join him in fleeing the city.256

  15. During the early evening (just after the mosques announced the start of the iftar signifying the end of the Ramadan fast)257, at least one of the guards [019]258 and possibly others [066259 and ‘Mustafa’260] informed the detainees that he would leave the door of the warehouse open and turn the light off to allow the detainees to escape because “they wanted you all dead”. The guard then ran away, along with one of his colleagues [066].261 The detainees did not flee, however, despite the open door. A number of other guards then came and demanded to know who had opened the door. The guards then closed the door and threw a number of grenades into the warehouse through the grill in the top of the doorway.262 The number of grenades used has been described by former detainees as between 6-8.263

  16. One of the two perpetrators spoken to by the Commission said that Sergeant [030] brought seven hand grenades from the military camp next door on 19 August 2011, reportedly telling one of the guards [066] that if the situation deteriorated he should use them to “carry out the task”. The guard, who was later reported to have been one of those who warned the detainees and fled before the massacre, reportedly refused to take the grenades.264 One of the guards who admitted throwing two of the grenades into the warehouse said he had been given them earlier by the centre commander [056]. The guard told the Commission that he had been threatened with being killed himself after he initially refused to take them.265

  17. The detainees were tightly packed and in consequence, some of the blast was absorbed by the bodies. The blast blew the doors open.266 The guards then began to fire AK-47 assault rifles through the door. As some of the survivors from the initial blast tried to get out, the perpetrators moved backwards into the yard and continued firing.267 Detainees variously described the firing as continuing for between 10-30 minutes, before the guards ceased firing and retired to the supply room. The detainees speculated to the Commission that this was to resupply with ammunition. As the prisoners were so tightly packed however, quite a few of the prisoners were still alive and those who could, escaped through the door and ran across to one corner of the compound, where they used a vehicle as a stepping stone to climb the wall and escape into the surrounding area.268 One detainee showed the Commission evidence of a bullet graze sustained during the escape.269

  18. While detainees named various guards as having been responsible for the actual killings, former guards themselves specifically named four individuals as having been responsible thrown the grenades or fired the rifles [038, 036, 017] and a volunteer named [057] under the orders of Sergeant [030].270 [036] had thrown the grenades while Sergeant [038] and [017] used AK-47s to shoot the prisoners.271 The specific role of [056] was not stated.272 The officer in charge of the centre [056] was not present, having already left prior to the executions.273

  19. Following the killing, one of the guards was ordered by Sergeant [030] to collect the bodies. He counted 109 bodies, including the ones inside the warehouse, on the street and in the yard in front of the warehouse. A Caterpillar digging machine was brought but it did not function properly. Having failed to locate another, he then came back and asked one of the other guards, [019] what to do with the bodies. The other guard suggested they burn the bodies inside the warehouse and then use a tank to shell the warehouse and claim that NATO had bombed the warehouse. Two days later, on 25 August 2011, they brought fuel and burned the bodies.274

  20. The next day, Friday 26 August 2011, local people were able to get into the warehouse, having seen that the guards had left. They found a total of 57 burnt bodies inside. There was still smoke in the air. 20 bodies lay outside on the ground with gunshot wounds. The bodies were subsequently collected in body bags and reburied at Sidi Hamed in Gargarish..275 Of the 157 believed to be in the warehouse on 23rd August 2011, only 51 survivors were confirmed, with 106 believed to have died.276

  21. In addition to viewing video footage taken at the time of human remains inside the warehouse,277 the Commission also visited the Yarmouk warehouse itself and examined evidence remaining there. The Commission noted that there were still some charred fragments of human skeletal remains inside the warehouse. The Commission’s forensic pathologist identified a number of these various bones as a calcaneus, fragments of the cranial vault, metatarsus, radius, tibia, fibula, pubic bone, ulna, metacarpals and 1st phalanges. Alongside the remains, the presence of maggots was noted. Empty cartridge cases were visible beside the human skeletal remains, as well as on the ground outside. The large metal door of the warehouse contained a number of holes consistent with bullet hole entry points. There were also holes in the metal doors of the warehouse consistent with bullets exiting the warehouse from the inside, along with holes in the door and roof which were consistent with shrapnel burst from the hand grenades.

  22. The Commission received testimony from numerous survivors, witnesses to the aftermath and two of the guards, who admitted direct or indirect involvement in the killing to the Commission. In addition, the Commission also interviewed Brigadier [028], who was reportedly at the warehouse earlier on the day of the massacre. He told the Commission he was simply in charge of personnel at the Military Intelligence (Istikhbarat). He reported directly to [008] and him alone. All orders came through [008] and he says he never was tasked directly by members of the Qadhafi family. When asked about his knowledge of the massacre, he claimed he only heard about it after the event and “if you’re interested in human rights violations then I don’t know why I am here”.278

  23. The testimony from all parties who were at the warehouse at the time of the massacre is broadly consistent and corroborative. In addition the forensic evidence remaining at the site is considerable and supports the testimony closely, in relation to the conditions they were kept, the torture they sustained whilst in detention, the use of hand grenades and AK-47s to execute prisoners and finally the attempted destruction of the bodies. While there are small discrepancies, the evidence collected by the Commission is also consistent with that collected by human rights organizations at the time and in the aftermath of the massacre.279

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