Deadly violence and abuses continue to grip Libya with civilians bearing the brunt
Libya continues to be embroiled in political strife and deadly violence, with multiple armed conflicts affecting several regions, and contributing to a general breakdown of law and order, according to a new UN human rights report released Monday.
All parties in Libya “appear to be committing violations of international humanitarian law including those that may amount to war crimes” as well as “gross violations or abuses of international human rights law.” The report lays bare in particular the abuses faced by vulnerable civilians such as internally displaced people, human rights defenders, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
The report, published jointly by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office, documents the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, the abduction of civilians, torture and executions, as well as deliberate destruction of property among other serious abuses and violations of international law in various parts of the country between 1 January and 31 October this year.
“Across Libya, warring factions showed little regard for avoiding or minimizing loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects,” says the report. The violence has led to hundreds of deaths, mass displacement and humanitarian crises in several regions in Libya.
Rival armed groups looted, burned or otherwise destroyed homes and other civilian property seemingly in retaliation for owners’ actual or perceived political allegiances. They continued to abduct civilians on the basis of their family links, origin or their actual or perceived political affiliation. Those detained are vulnerable to torture and other ill-treatment, sometimes leading to death in custody – carried out with impunity. Methods of torture including beatings, suspension in stress positions, electric shocks and sleep deprivation are documented. Those abducted are frequently denied contact with their families.
Against the backdrop of the breakdown of law and order and infighting, groups that pledge allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) gained and consolidated control over swathes of territory in Libya, committing gross abuses, including public summary executions of individuals based on their religion or political allegiance. The report has also documented cruel punishment such as amputations and flogging carried out by such groups.
The report also highlights the plight of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa, who are increasingly vulnerable to killing, detention in inhumane conditions, torture, kidnapping, physical assault, armed robbery and exploitation. Some were taken by armed groups in apparent retaliation for the actions of the governments of their country of origin.
“Many migrants, asylum seekers and refugees become victims of brutal violence, coercion and abuse perpetrated by smugglers along smuggling routes, as well as in so-called ‘connection houses’, where they await departure to Europe. Many reported torture intended to extract more money from their families, in what appeared to be coordinated action from criminal gangs based in countries of origin as well as transit,” says the report. “A number of migrants and asylum seekers who remained in ‘connection houses’ said they were given little food for the purpose of making travellers lose weight… Some also reported that women were taken away at night and sexually abused.”
The report also notes that thousands of individuals were held in prisons and other detention centres under the official oversight of the Ministries of Justice, Defense and Interior as well as in facilities run directly by armed groups, amid frequent reports of torture or other ill-treatment.
The justice system continued to be severely hampered due to ongoing fighting and insecurity. “The justice system, where it was functioning, failed to ensure accountability, while abuses by armed groups continue to take place with impunity,” notes the report, adding that in several parts of the country, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials faced threats and attacks including detention and assassinations, in relation to their work.
As intolerance for any criticism of those in de facto control of any given region in Libya grows, human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists have been targeted and subjected to assaults, abductions and death threats. In the past two weeks, at least eight media workers were subjected to attacks, including abductions, harassment and threats. At least one remains in arbitrary detention.
The report also documents the shelling of medical facilities, with medical professionals caught up in the violence, abducted or detained by the different actors, with some allegedly victims of torture and other ill-treatment. For instance, the Benghazi Medical Centre, the largest functioning hospital in Benghazi, was shelled on at least four occasions between April and July.
“Medical professionals and other hospital staff across Libya complained of a general climate of insecurity, with armed men forcibly entering and engaging in armed skirmishes inside hospital premises, as well as threatening staff,” the report states.
The report calls on all those with effective control on the ground to immediately take action to stop acts in breach of international human rights and humanitarian law. Commanders must publicly declare that such acts will not be tolerated.
Those involved in grave abuses of international human rights and international humanitarian law are criminally liable, including before the International Criminal Court which is investigating the situation in Libya.
The report also warns that abuses and violence will continue unless a political settlement is reached without delay and based on respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).