Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) has ordered an investigation into the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader, after international pressure to examine the circumstances surrounding his death.
“In response to international calls, we have started to put in place a commission tasked with investigating the circumstances of Muammar Gaddafi’s death in the clash with his circle as he was being captured,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the NTC, said at a news conference in Bengazi on Monday.
The United Nations human rights office on Monday said that it welcomed the formation of the commission.
“We stress the need to ensure that due process is followed, in accordance with international law, in the treatment of all detainees,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.
“This is not a time for revenge, but for healing and rebuilding,” she added.
He said all Libyans “wanted to try [Gaddafi] for what he has done to them. From executions, to imprisonment, to throwing away the Libyan wealth … or using that wealth against the Libyan people”. Abdel Jalil also announced that the process of forming a new interim government was already under way, and would be completed “within two weeks”.
The NTC chairman also said Gaddafi may have been killed by his own loyalists in order to escape being implicated by him in any trial.
“Some people may have wanted him to have been tried to extend their feeling of relief at his downfall,” said Abdel Jalil.
“Free Libyans wanted Gaddafi to spend as much time in prison as possible and feel humiliation as much as possible.”
The NTC has insisted that Gaddafi was killed in “crossfire” between NTC fighters and pro-Gaddafi loyalists after his capture from a drainage pipe outside his hometown of Sirte.
Some members of the NTC, as well as of the international community, have expressed doubt over this version of events.
The US, Britain and international rights groups have all called for an investigation into how Gaddafi was killed in what appeared to be one of the final acts of Libya’s eight-month civil war.
Critics have also said that the fact that Gaddafi’s body, along with that of his son Mutassim, was on display in a Misrata freezer raises questions about the NTC’c commitment to the rule of law.
On Monday, however, the Reuters news agency reported that the NTC had ended the public viewing of Gaddafi’s body at 3:00pm local time (13:00 GMT).
A military commander told Al Jazeera that Gaddafi was to buried, along with his son Mutassim, at a secret desert location on Tuesday. Reuters, citing an unnamed NTC official reported that Gaddafi would be given a “simple burial” and that a Muslim cleric would be present.
Explosion in Sirte
Meanwhile, in Sirte, a fuel storage unit exploded on Monday, killing at least 50 people.
The cause of the blaze was unknown, but residents say that it was due to an electrical fault, and that the depot, the only such facility avaiilable to Sirte’s residents, had previously been bombed by NATO.
“There is no other source for petrol in the area of Sirte except for here. It was bombed by NATO before, and there is some damage to its electric system,” said Saeed, a resident of Sirte.
“Electricity was reconnected for half an hour, and the fuel storage unit exploded. This was the reason. Basically the reason is NATO.”
Abdel Jalil said the NTC’s commission would be governed by a religious edict issued by the head of the Islamic Fatwa society.
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On Sunday, Abdel Jalil declared the country “liberated” at a ceremony in the eastern city of Benghazi, starting the country on what is planned to be a two-year path to democracy.
At that ceremony, he had announced that Islamic law would be “basic source” of all legislation in the oil-rich country, and that any existing laws that contradict this would be struck down.
While this stipulation exists in the constitution of neighbouring Egypt, Egyptian laws remain largely secular, as opposed to those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of which also use Islamic law.
Abdel Jalil outlined several changes to existing laws, including the banning of the paying of interest by banks and the legalisation of polygamy.
On Monday, Abdel Jalil sought to allay concerns that hardline interpretations of Islamic law would be used, saying that he wanted to “assure the international community that we as Libyans are moderate Muslims”.
He said a referendum will be held on the country’s new constitution once it has been drafted.
On Monday, France said that it would be keeping a close watch over Libya’s respect for human rights following the announcement regarding Islamic law, the country’s foreign ministry said.
“We will be watchful of respect for human rights and democratic principles, notably cultural and religious diversity and the equality of men and women to which France is unswervingly attached,” Bernard Valero, a ministry spokesman, said.
Alleged rights abuses
On Monday, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned of a “trend of killings, looting and other abuses” by those who had fought against Gaddafi.
HRW said it had found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi loyalists, in Sirte, and that there were indications they may have been executed by revolutionary forces.
The bodies were found on the lawn of the abandoned Mahari hotel, and some had their hands bound.
Peter Bouckaert, a researcher for HRW, said the hotel had been under the control of NTC fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.
The condition of the bodies suggested that the men had been killed between October 15 and 19, HRW said.
Bloodstains on the grass and spent cartridges indicated that some were shot and killed at the spot they were discovered.
“This latest massacre seems part of a trend of killings, looting, and other abuses committed by armed anti-Gaddafi fighters who consider themselves above the law,” Bouckaert said in a statement.
“It is imperative that the transitional authorities take action to rein in these groups.”
The group called on Libyan authorities to conduct an immediate investigation.
NTC fighters in Misrata, a city that had been besieged by Gaddafi’s troops for weeks earlier this year, had no immediate comment.
The United States State Department termed the report “extremely disturbing”, while Gene Cretz, the US ambassador to Libya, had “raised it with the National Transitional Council today and asked them to conduct a full investigation,” according to a State department spokesperson..