UN launches probe into deployment of foreign fighters to Libya by Turkish government: report

UN rapporteurs sent a joint letter in June to the Turkish government seeking further information about its role in the recruitment, financing,  transportation and deployment of Syrian fighters to Libya, Nordic Monitor reported.

According to the allegations underlined in the letter, Turkey effectively deployed mercenaries to an armed conflict in Libya by recruiting, deploying and paying fighters, including children, from several Syrian armed groups to take part in military operations in Tripoli in support of the Government of National Accord (GNA).

The UN letter also revealed how the Turkish government used its paramilitary contractor SADAT for those operations. “Turkish authorities allegedly contracted private military and security companies to facilitate the selection as well as the preparation of official and contractual documentation for the fighters, apparently in coordination with the Turkish security services. One of the companies cited in this context was Sadat International Defence Consultancy [SADAT],” the letter said.

UN rapporteurs Chris Kwaja, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination; Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mama Fatima Singhateh, special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material; and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment sent a joint letter, dated June 10, to the Turkish government to express their concern “about the recruitment and transfer of mercenaries from Syria to Libya, notably the impact this may have on the protracted armed conflict in Libya and the right of the Libyan people to self-determination.”

The UN rapporteurs asked the Turkish government to provide further information about on its role and the circumstances surrounding the recruitment, financing, transportation and deployment of Syrian fighters, including children under 18 years old, to participate in the hostilities in Libya; the role of Turkish private military and security companies in those operations and the relationship between such companies and Turkish government; the number of Syrian fighters deployed to Libya, the names of the Syrian armed groups with which they are affiliated; the command and control structure over fighters and the measures in place to hold them accountable for violations of international humanitarian law; and whether those allegations have been investigated by the relevant Turkish authorities.

SADAT and other possible Turkish contractors were also accused of recruiting children under 18 years of age to take part in the armed conflict in Libya by the UN rapporteurs. “Not only have [Turkish] these companies facilitated the recruitment and deployment of mercenaries from Syria to Libya, but, according to the available information, they have also contributed to the recruitment of children under 18 years of age to take part in an armed conflict.”

SADAT, which is fully funded and supported by the Turkish government, is owned by retired Gen. Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdi, the former chief military aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Nordic Monitor published several reports on SADAT’s activities and goals in Turkey and abroad.

According to its web page, the company has been active in Libya and started providing military training and consultancy to Libyan security authorities in 2013. Tanrıverdi visited the country in May 2013 in order to “determine the needs of New Libyan Armed Forces and search for possibilities for Consultancy, Training, Ordnance service delivery for Libya” and met with Libyan military officials. SADAT then devised a project, titled “Sports Facilities Design for a Military Regiment,” for the Libyan military.

Tanrıverdi announced in December 2019 that SADAT has been working to pave the way for the long-awaited mahdi (prophesied redeemer of Islam), for whom the entire Muslim world is waiting.

Turkey’s opposition lawmakers had asked the government about the alleged role of SADAT in training Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Syrian al-Qaeda group Jabhat al-Nusrah (al-Nusrah Front) fighters and alleged close relations between Turkish intelligence agency MİT and SADAT.

“[T]he reported role of Turkish private military and security companies in facilitating the recruitment and contracting of Syrian fighters, in apparent coordination with Turkish authorities, is an additional element of concern,” the UN letter stated.

“A number of fighters are believed to have agreed to be transferred to Tripoli, including but not limited to members of the Hamza Division, Sultan Murad Division, Suqur Al-Sham Brigades, Mu’tasim Division, Faylaq al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sharqiyah, and Suleyman-Shah Brigade. … [F]ighters were transferred to Libya, some of them on Turkish military planes from Gaziantep to Istanbul followed by commercial flights to Tripoli and Misrata, areas under the control of the GNA. … The fighters appear to have been motivated to deploy to Libya by comparatively high wages as well as the prospect of obtaining Turkish passports,” the UN joint letter said.

Syrian fighters were subsequently issued a Turkish temporary protection identification document and employment contracts for durations of three to six months and integrated into local armed groups affiliated with the GNA, the letter underlined.

A report to Congress by the Lead Inspector General for East Africa and North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operations of the US Department of Defense put forward that Turkey sent between 3,500 and 3,800 paid Syrian fighters to Libya in the first three months of the year, two months before a string of Turkish-backed victories by the Tripoli forces. Moreover, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the total number of Syrian mercenaries in Libya had reached 16,500 by the end of July.

The UN letter also indicates that the deployment of Syrian fighters followed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Security and Military Cooperation signed by the Turkish government and the GNA on November 27, 2019 in Istanbul.

Nordic Monitor previously released the full text of the MoU allowing Turkey to provide training, technical information, support, development, maintenance, repair, recovery, disposal, port and counseling support, allocation of ground, sea and air vehicles, equipment, weapons, buildings and training bases.

The UN communique underlined the fact that MoU “provides for the exchange of ‘guest personnel’, advisors and units. ‘Guest personnel’ is defined as ‘members of defence and security agencies and sent by one Party to the other Party’ without specifying whether such personnel is part of the formal state security institutions or whether they can be drawn from armed groups based in a third country.”

As indicated by the UN rapporteurs, the GNA requested “military and security assistance” from Turkey on the basis of the MoU in late December 2019, and the Turkish parliament authorized the deployment of personnel and other assets in Libya on January 2, 2020.

According to the UN letter, Syrian children under the age of 18, some whom were internally displaced, were sent to Libya. “Allegedly, this included children under the age of 18 years, who had the approval of their families and who, subsequently, were issued with forged identification documents in order to be registered in SNA personal status records. Some of the children were reportedly internally displaced due to the conflict in Syria and received military training by the armed group that recruited them prior to being transferred to Libya,” the UN rapporteurs stated.

In the letter rapporteurs also conveyed their concerns that Syrians deployed to Libya were affiliated with armed groups that have been accused of serious human rights abuses in Syria, “thus seemingly perpetuating a cycle of abuse and impunity.”

The UN rapporteurs informed the government of President Erdoğan of the relevant international norms and standards that are applicable to issues indicated in the letter.

“Syrian fighters have been allegedly recruited, transported and used in the armed conflict in Libya appears consistent with the definition of a mercenary, as set out by relevant international legal instruments and prohibited by the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council with respect to Libya. Furthermore, the deployment of mercenaries to an armed conflict may threaten several human rights, including, inter alia: the right to life, freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to liberty and security of person, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention,” they said.

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