Oral update of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Libya pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 34/38


20 March 2018

37th session of the Human Rights Council
Address by Mr. Andrew Gilmour, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Geneva, 20 March 2018
Salle XX, Palais des Nations

Mr. President,
Excellencies, colleagues,

I am pleased to update you on human rights in Libya including on the effectiveness of technical assistance and capacity building received by the Government of Libya. 

I wish to convey the High Commissioner’s deep appreciation to the Government of Libya for hosting his visit to Libya on 10 October last year.   

When the Deputy High Commissioner updated you last September, she emphasized that the human rights situation had not improved.

Regretfully, I deliver the same message today. It’s been seven years since the Libyan revolution, but the proliferation of armed groups throughout Libya has led to a situation in which abuses remain acute and widespread. Armed groups continue to be the main perpetrators, and act with almost complete impunity for even the most serious of crimes.


In 2017, UNSMIL/OHCHR documented 371 civilian casualties, including 161 killed. The leading causes of death were the indiscriminate gunfire, explosive remnants of war, airstrikes, and bombs.  

Civilian medical facilities were attacked across the country. 

There have also been deadly attacks targeting mosques during prayer times.


Mr. President,

Execution style killing of captives  continued, some well-publicized, as on 24 January, when social media showed images and a video purportedly of Special Forces field commander, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, shooting 10 blindfolded men kneeling with their hands tied behind their backs. Al-Werfalli has been the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant since  August 2017. 

In what has become an increasing pattern in and around Benghazi over the last two years, more bodies with signs of torture and hands bound were found in the streets, such as 36 men were found in the area of al-Abyar, east of Benghazi in October. The west of the country is also not spared.


Mr. President,

Places of detention remain a huge concern, with those run by armed groups, including those with links to Ministries, having the worst records. Detainees are held often arbitrarily, incommunicado, tortured and denied medical treatment. Women, including victims of the so-called Islamic State and survivors of rape, are arbitrarily detained, as the slow prosecution processes grind on.

OHCHR and UNSMIL have been advocating for years that armed groups must hand over detainees to judicial authorities, but when will action been taken? Similarly, it would be good if we would hear the Government declare its public and unequivocal condemnation of torture, ill-treatment and summary executions and its determination to ensure the accountability for such crimes. We are not aware, unfortunately, of the Government having been very vocal on these issues. 

Derna remains surrounded by forces allied to the Libyan National Army who restrict the movement of civilians and entry of essential humanitarian assistance into the city. These forces have arbitrarily detained and are continuing to hold, Derna residents, including medical professionals, when they tried to leave or enter the city.


On 26 December, the Presidency Council announced that Tawerghans would be able to return home as of 1 February 2018. However, when Tawergha IDP families tried to return to their homes, they were blocked by armed groups. Around 200 of these families are living in harsh winter conditions without the most basic of services. 

We call on all actors to protect civilians and to ensure a process is swiftly put in place to guarantee the right to return, allow demining to begin, rebuilding and delivering basic services in Tawergha.


Mr. President,

Reports of open slave markets where captured migrants are bought and sold have shocked the world. Such reports are part of a widespread pattern of serious human rights violations against migrants in Libya that our Office in Libya continues to monitor. Despite some progress made by United Nations agencies in providing voluntary repatriation of migrants and refugees, the treatment for those still in State-run detention centres remains appalling

Since November 2017, our monitoring has indicated a continuation of a pattern of torture, including by the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) officials, and in particular targeting men. Male detainees are subjected to forced labour; women to strip and intrusive cavity search by male DCIM staff, and all face extortion.

In December 2017, the UN Committee against Torture found that the European Union and individual Members States were providing significant support to the Libyan coastguard and other agencies working with migrants without any form of conditionality or review based on compliance with human rights. It recommended that relevant State parties should take all necessary legal, political and diplomatic measures to ensure that cooperation is consistent with the absolute prohibition of torture. I reiterate the High Commissioner’s call to the European contries to adopt a human rights due diligence approach to their support to the Libyan authorities. Failure to do so would in effect be tantamount to encouraging and subsidizing torture. We understand that such an approach may be under consideration and would urge its immediate adoption.


Mr. President,

We saw the first visit of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Libya in October, followed by the first visit of a  Special Rapporteur (on IDPs), in January. These were positive steps that must be built upon.

UNSMIL/OHCHR is working with donors and civil society on establishing legal aid, psychosocial and medical services for victims of human rights abuses.

We urge Member States to prioritize addressing impunity, including through active support for the International Criminal Court and other accountability mechanisms that complement it.

OHCHR stresses the need for broader engagement of Member States on human rights issues in Libya, including when working in support of  security forces. I underscore the need to work on oversight and accountability mechanisms, and to step up efforts to prevent further violations,  to release all detainees in arbitrary detention; to improve the current deplorable conditions both for Libyan detainees and for migrant foreign migrants; and to begin processes for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of fighters.

Our Office stands ready to support such efforts.

Thank you.