A three-member international panel arrived in Libya today to begin a United Nations-ordered inquiry into the violence and human rights abuses in the North African country since forces supporting Muammar al-Qadhafi began a crackdown against protesters earlier this year.
The team, led by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian jurist and war crimes expert who has previously served as a UN rapporteur, was dispatched by the Human Rights Council and will present its findings to the Geneva-based body in June.
The other panel members are Asma Khader, a Jordanian-Palestinian lawyer who serves on the executive committee of the International Commission of Jurists, and Canada’s Philippe Kirsch, who was the first president of the International Criminal Court.
The inquiry was ordered after reports emerged of serious human rights abuses against civilians in Libya, where initially peaceful protests have transformed into open conflict between opposition groups and the Qadhafi regime.
The General Assembly suspended Libya’s membership in the Human Rights Council last month in the wake of the violent repression of the protesters, and the Security Council later authorized Member States to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.
UN agencies have been sending relief supplies to thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) or besieged civilians in cities across the country, although deadly fighting continues between pro- and anti-Qadhafi forces, including in the city of Misrata.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today that it has now established an international aid presence in the capital, Tripoli, with humanitarian workers also deployed to operational bases in Benghazi and to the neighbouring countries of Tunisia, Egypt, Chad and Niger.
The World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have all been able to deliver what OCHA described as “significant shipments” of aid.
Medical supplies and staff are among the biggest priorities now, while stocks of food and water are sufficient for only one to two months in some areas.
An estimated 615,000 people, including large numbers of third-country nationals, have fled Libya so far, with more than 10,000 evacuated from Misrata.
Aid agencies are seeking about $310 million to fund their relief operations, and so far have received $129 million.