Voices of despair in Libya

During an evening in November 2014, four masked armed men in military uniforms broke into a home in Benghazi, Libya.

“They ordered me to go with them,” a 45-year-old man interviewed by the UN Human Rights Office recalled.

“I asked them to identify themselves and to let me know why they wanted to arrest me. They handcuffed and blindfolded me and then drove me to an unknown place. As soon as I stepped out of their car, I was severely tortured and insulted by the guards while I was still blindfolded,” he added. 

He was put in a cell with more than 40 detainees. No one knew where they were and why they were there. By the next day, all of them would be beaten randomly by 15 guards.

“We did not know why they tortured us like this and most of us were left bleeding on the ground without receiving any medical treatment,” he said.

This tragic account is one of over 200 testimonies from victims and witnesses as part of an investigation conducted by the UN Human Rights Office on Libya since the beginning of 2014.

Some of the testimonies have been included in a new report by the UN Human Rights Office which concludes that there were widespread violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and abuses of human rights in Libya throughout 2014 and 2015.

“Despite the human rights situation in Libya, the country only sporadically makes the headlines,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “A multitude of actors – both State and non-State – are accused of very serious violations and abuses that may, in many cases, amount to war crimes.”

Men, women and children have all been negatively impacted by the intense decline in Libya’s political and security situation in 2014 and 2015. The report provides vivid details on violations and abuses committed against children, migrants, human rights defenders and journalists, women, and internally displaced persons, among others.

These acts include unlawful killings and executions; arbitrary detentions, abductions and disappearances; indiscriminate attacks impacting on civilians; attacks against and attacks impacting on persons and facilities (hospitals, ambulances, residential buildings) protected under international law, unwarranted destruction and looting of private property; torture and ill-treatment; sexual and gender-based violence and gender-based violence; and violations of economic, social and cultural rights.

Having taken place in all areas of Libya, these acts can be attributed to not only State actors, but also armed groups some of which affiliated with armed alliances Libya Dawn or Operation Dignity.

For instance, a large number of migrants are being held in official government and unofficial detention facilities where they are either controlled or guarded by armed groups. In many cases, these migrants have been abused and living in inadequate conditions.

In Gheryan, a man held in a detention centre for migrants in early 2014 described severe ill-treatment and an unlawful killing.

“If the guards open the door, and the detainees do not move fast, the guards would flog them with a chain,” he said. “Once, a man…spilled his soup. One of the guards took out a gun and shot him dead in front of me. After this incident, I decided I must escape.”

A number of women reported being subjected to sexual violence but they did not wish to provide detailed accounts or have their stories shared publicly. However, one woman came forward and said she was abducted in Tripoli by members of an armed group, drugged and raped repeatedly over a period of six months.

Children have also been exposed to abuse. Two boys reported being taken away from their families and forced to undergo religious and military training by members of a group which has pledged allegiance to ISIL.

One boy described being sexually abused.

“I knew what I had to do [in the evenings], I had to take my clothes off and turn around and bend facing the wall,” he said.

The testimonies and assessments in the report underscore the urgent need to investigate these violations and abuses and to ensure accountability in Libya. The report provides 37 recommendations to all parties to the conflict, the Government, the international community, the Security Council, and the Human Rights Council. 

“One of the most striking elements of this report lies in the complete impunity which continues to prevail in Libya and the systemic failures of the justice system,” Zeid said. “This report clearly shows that the justice system does not have the means or capacity to conduct prompt, independent and credible investigations or to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations or abuses.”

During their investigation, the Office’s investigation team had limited access to Libya due to the security situation. The team travelled to Tripoli for a one-day visit and conducted their investigation through missions in Tunisia, and to Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Italy to meet with victims and witnesses.

25 February 2016

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