A team of U.N.-sanctioned independent experts has launched a probe into allegations that Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi's forces have abducted, tortured and executed opponents, a U.N. special investigator said Wednesday.
The U.N.'s special rapporteur for torture, Juan Mendez, told The Associated Press that he has been focusing on the Gadhafi regime's alleged executions of patients pulled from hospitals, shots fired at crowds of protesters and other uses of disproportionate force.
The urgent investigation began soon after Mendez received complaints from Gadhafi's opponents about the crackdown that began in mid-February, he said. In response, he sent a formal notice to the government demanding information about he was hearing.
"We wrote a joint communication to the government of Libya on allegations that we received. It was an urgent action," he said. "Those communications are confidential, so I can confirm that we are engaged. But we cannot say more about it."
Mendez, an Argentine lawyer and visiting professor of international law at American University in Washington, said he is teaming up for the probe with Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings, and a U.N. panel of independent experts on disappearances.
He said they would demand information from Gadhafi's regime and, if the responses are inadequate, take note of that in monthly reports to the U.N.'s 47-nation Human Rights Council based in Geneva.
The world body's top human rights body also has ordered a diplomatic-level inquiry of human rights abuses in Libya. Separately, the U.N. Security Council, the world body's most powerful arm, has ordered a separate investigation at the International Criminal Court into Gadhafi and his inner circle, including some of his sons, for possible crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.
"Perhaps now that it's become a war rather than a repression, that's probably appropriate," Mendez said of the Human Rights Council's decision to employ ambassadors rather than U.N. staff for its inquiry. By contrast, he said, the probe that he and his counterparts have undertaken "is completely different, because we are independent experts."
Mendez said that team was looking into reports by aid officials, migrant workers and refugees of Gadhafi's armed soldiers using ambulances to gain admittance to hospitals to remove patients and execute them elsewhere, in an effort to get rid of possible witnesses ahead of Gadhafi's admittance of foreign reporters into Tripoli.
"I can't disclose the names of individuals that were given to us or what happened to them, but I can say that they are the same kind of allegations that you have reported on," Mendez said.
"Shooting in the streets against demonstrators, picking them up from hospitals (and) I think executing them. And also detaining and mistreating them and torturing them," he said. "The torture allegations that we received were more of mistreatment in the street itself, at the demonstrations."
Mendez said he has not received allegations of abuse committed by rebel forces opposed to the longtime Libyan ruler, nor any allegations that Gadhafi's forces had tortured prisoners or detainees.
"But there were risks of it, for example, people who were detained and their whereabouts were not disclosed _ that raises a really red flag," he said.