New UN rights report depicts ‘turmoil, lawlessness’ in Libya

11 February 2015 | News and Media

Libya, 10 February 2015 – A report produced jointly by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) “paints a bleak picture” of the human rights situation in the country during 2014, the High Commissioner’s spokesperson said today in Geneva.

A girl looks out of her house window in Benghazi, Libya. Photo: UNSMIL

A girl looks out of her house window in Benghazi, Libya. Photo: UNSMIL

The report, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March, depicts a country suffering from increasing turmoil and lawlessness, inflamed by a multitude of competing, heavily armed groups and a broadening political crisis. Against such a backdrop, it calls for bolstering State institutions, urges accountability for rights violations and support for the ongoing political dialogue.

“Rampant violence and fighting, including in the country’s two biggest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, as well as many other cities and towns across the country, is badly affecting civilians in general and a number of specific groups in particular,” said spokesperson Rupert Colville.

Indiscriminate artillery and air attacks are commonplace, the report says, while infrastructure, such hospitals, schools and airports, has been attacked and damaged or used for military purposes.

He said the report found tremendous suffering among children, with many unable to attend school and others killed or maimed at home or during attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as numerous reports of violence against women, including threats, attacks and killings of female human rights defenders, politicians and other women in public positions.

Targeted violence, unlawful killings and assassinations, were found to be common, with footage emerging in November that appeared to show several beheadings in Benghazi and Derna.

Cases of harassment, intimidation, torture, abductions, and summary executions of human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists and other media professionals, as well as members of the judiciary, politicians and law enforcement officers were common and minority groups, including Egyptian Coptic Christians, have also been increasingly targeted.

“The report also highlights the extremely vulnerable situation of migrants in Libya, especially those in areas affected by the fighting, and of internally displaced people,” said Mr. Colville. “Migrants face arbitrary detention and very poor conditions of detention, marked by overcrowding, poor sanitation and exploitation.”

Fighting and intentional destruction of residential and commercial property has caused ballooning displacement with the number of internally displaced persons soaring from 60,000 at the beginning of 2014 to around 400,000 by mid-November.

UN human rights staff report thousands of people in detention, held mostly by armed groups in situations where torture and ill-treatment is rife, with no means of challenging their situation because prosecutors and judges are unable or unwilling to confront the armed groups.

The intimidation and attacks suffered by members of the judiciary, which include court bombings, physical assaults, abduction of individuals or family members and unlawful killings, help explain the hesitancy and the breakdown of the justice system, which does not function in some parts of the country.

State institutions must be strengthened, the report urges, calling for accountability for human rights violations and support the ongoing political dialogue. Reforms have been severely undermined by the security situation, with little progress on establishing a new fact-finding and reconciliation commission or measures of redress for victims.

“The National Council on Civil Liberties and Human Rights, Libya’s national human rights institution which has been forcefully shut down in Tripoli, must be allowed to resume its work,” said Mr. Colville, who noted that the Constitution Drafting Assembly was in urgent need of support to continue functioning.

As the Libyan parties prepare to restart UN-supported political talks – two rounds of discussions have been held in the past month at the UN Office in Geneva – Bernardo Leon, head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) told UN Radio that he believed that while the majority of the people in the country were pushing their political representatives and the militias alike to negotiate, “a minority, but a noisy minority and people who hold weapons and have power, in some cases are against [the talks.]”

“Our challenge is to make sure this majority has enough support from the international community to prevail over the minority,” he said the coming round of negotiations, which will be held in Libya rather than Geneva. The time and location for the talks had not been released for security reasons.

Asked what would be the difference between the talks now that they were opening in a new location, Mr. Leon stressed that the dialogue is the same, while it has different tracks. “One is this political track; there are other groups with municipalities with the armed groups, tribal leaders and political parties. So you have different groups discussing different things but the idea is that at the end they will all converge in one final group.”

He went on to say that as of now, all the mainstream groups, the most influential groups in both the political and military realms in both groups fighting in Libya are supporting the UN-mediated political process, which he said had been agreed by the parties and should include at the first stage “the unity government and the stabilization programme including, ceasefire, weapons control, militias leaving cities and the strategic facilities and monitoring.

“If we can achieve these two very urgent goals we will be solving maybe 75 per cent or 80 per cent of the current problems in Libya. Still we will have a lot of challenges and it will be an important step, but it won’t be enough,” he explained, underscoring that the constitution process would need to be re-launched and that negotiation would be needed “to find solutions for the institutional chaos in the country.”

“So, we will still have a long way [to go], even if we’re successful in the first stage, but if we can get in the coming weeks this ceasefire and especially the unity government, I think we will have achieved a lot,” said Mr. Leon.