Arbitrary detentions and impunity widespread in Libya, UN Turk warns — Global Issues


“Trafficking in human beings, torture, forced labour, extortion, starvation in intolerable conditions of detention” are “committed on a massive scale… with impunity,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights told member states.

“Mass expulsions, the sale of people, including children” are widespread in Libya, Mr Türk continued, insisting that there was cooperation between state and non-state actors, with victims who become victims of “dehumanization”.

Calling on Libyan authorities to investigate crimes against the many thousands of vulnerable people fleeing their homes, the High Commissioner also highlighted the discovery in March of a mass grave in south-west Libya containing the bodies of 65 suspected migrants.

“As if this were not horrific enough, we are following reports of another mass grave recently discovered in the desert area on the Libyan-Tunisian border… The relatives of the dead have every right to know the truth,” he said.

State of unrest

The High Commissioner also urged a review of the longstanding arrangement between the European Union and Libyan authorities responsible for intercepting migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Independent law experts and charities involved in search and rescue operations have often criticized the schemereferring to alleged reckless behavior by the Libyan coast guard, including shooting at or near migrant vessels and ramming boats to capsize them, after which the survivors were returned to Libya.

In the 12 months since April 2023, more than 2,400 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean, with more than 1,300 of them departing from Libya, Mr Türk noted.

“It is unacceptable that people seeking safety and dignity should suffer and die in such unspeakable conditions,” he maintained.I remind all States of their collective responsibility under international law to save lives and prevent deaths at sea.

Dangers of the Sahara

The High Commissioner also called for action to address the deaths of “so many migrants and refugees” travelling through the Sahara desert to Libya, after new UN estimates that Twice as many migrants are likely to die trying to cross the sand than in the Mediterranean.

These shocking findings reflect the growing number of people attempting to cross the Sahara, fuelled by renewed conflict in the Sahel and Sudan, climate shocks and ongoing emergencies in the East and Horn of Africa. The dangers for migrants and refugees in Libya stem from the persistent political instability and conflict that has divided the country since the ouster of long-serving President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The “volatile security situation” also prevented UN human rights observers from having full access to the southern and eastern parts of the country, Mr Türk continued, adding that investigators were also denied access to detention facilities and other locations across the country.

Extrajudicial executions

The UN human rights chief highlighted a spike in “arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances and detention-related violations” in Libya and also expressed concern about the continued targeting of political opponents and dissident voices. “While the figure is likely to be higher and arrests continue, we have verified at least 60 cases of arbitrary detention of persons peacefully exercising their right to express political opinions. In some cases, detention was followed by extrajudicial execution“, he said, stressing that the continued lack of accountability for the “violations and abuses” committed in 2011 “remains one of the serious obstacles to reconciliation today and serves as a driver of conflict”.

Less than a year after Storm Daniel caused catastrophic flooding in the coastal city of Derna, killing thousands of people, Mr Türk claimed the country was still “plagued by deep insecurity” as ordinary Libyans endured “economic hardship combined with political exclusion”.

The situation can be remedied, the UN human rights chief stressed, calling for a rights-based, people-centred transitional justice and reconciliation process, a sustainable political solution, the restoration of the rule of law – including accountability for human rights violations – and unified, legitimate institutions.

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