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In the news: ‘Horror’ and ‘shock’ at Libya mass graves

The discovery of dozens of bodies in the town of Tarhouna is the latest in a series of atrocities in the 14-month war.

A member of security forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord points to a mass grave Ismail Zitouny/REUTERS
A member of security forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord points toward what the government says are recently discovered mass graves, in Tarhouna on 11 June.

Last week’s discovery of at least eight mass graves in a town southeast of the Libyan capital of Tripoli has led to expressions of “horror” and “shock” from the UN, and the promise of an investigation in the midst of war.

On Thursday, the UN’s mission in Libya said it “notes with horror reports” of the graves in a town called Tarhouna, a former stronghold of eastern forces led by Khalifa Haftar that was retaken last week by groups loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). 

The two sides have been fighting for control of Tripoli and the country since last April, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to go on the run, and, in recent months, leaving doctors and nurses to try to fight the spread of COVID-19 at the same time as they treat the war-wounded.

Read more → Libya’s doctors fight on two dangerous fronts: Coronavirus and war

The GNA has said it will launch an investigation into the graves, which reportedly contained dozens of bodies, including some who appeared to have been buried alive. More bodies are said to have been found elsewhere in Tarhouna.

In a Friday statement delivered by a spokesperson, UN chief António Guterres said he was “deeply shocked” by the finding of the graves. “The Secretary-General calls for a thorough and transparent investigation, and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice… [and] once again reminds all parties to the conflict in Libya of their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” the statement added.

GNA-allied forces have been accused of looting and revenge killings since they took Tarhouna, in a major victory for the government that forced thousands of people to take flight. While negotiations for a ceasefire have so far been unsuccessful, the UN says both parties to the war are now “fully engaged” in a current round of talks. 

– Annie Slemrod

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