2 February 2018
In my capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), I have had the honour to carry out an official visit to Libya from 25 to 31 January 2018 at the invitation of the Government. This was the first ever visit by a UN Special Rapporteur to the country.
The objective of my visit was to consult widely with Government representatives both at the national and local levels, United Nations specialized agencies, civil society, and other key national and international stakeholders on the main issues concerning internal displacement in Libya, as well as to identify main humanitarian, human rights and protection concerns facing IDPs. An important element of my visit was to consult IDPs and those who have returned home, to see their situations first hand and to hear from them about their situation, needs and expectations. During my seven-day visit I travelled to Tripoli, and areas in the vicinity of Tripoli, and Misrata where I met with numerous IDPs who told me about their situations, challenges and hopes for solutions to their problems. I regret that I was unable to visit those affected by displacement in more remote areas in southern Libya, due to security limitations, where conditions are also reportedly of particular concern. Moreover, the planned visit to Benghazi on the last day of my mission in Libya was cancelled at the last minute by the Benghazi authorities apparently due to logistical reasons; this was very unfortunate.
The findings presented here represent only my preliminary observations and do not reflect the full range of issues that were brought to my attention, nor do they reflect all the initiatives on the part of the Government or its humanitarian and development partners. Over the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the information I have received in order to develop my full country visit report, which will be presented to the Government of Libya and the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 38th session in June 2018.
I take this opportunity to sincerely thank the Government of Libya for its invitation to visit and for the high-level meetings held, including a short welcome meeting with the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj. I thank the Government as well for its full respect of the independence of my mandate in accordance with the UN terms of reference for special rapporteurs and experts. The willingness to engage with my mandate is testament to the political will to address displacement issues in Libya and must be commended.
Firstly, let me say a few words about my mandate on the human rights of internally displaced persons. I take my guidance from the human rights standards relating to those persons who have to flee their homes but remain within the borders of their countries. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998), establish that internal displacement can be caused by a wide range of factors including conflict, human rights violations, violence, and fleeing for reasons of force or fear of the factors just stated. IDPs can cluster in camps or centers, or stay in homes to escape or hide from potential sources of persecution and violence.
The primary responsibility to protect and assist internally displaced persons lies with Governments. The Libyan Government has demonstrated some political will and commitment to address the situation of IDPs through establishing a Minister of IDPs as well as a High Committee for the Return of IDPs, and these positive measures must be acknowledged. However, the displacement crisis in Libya is one of huge complexities and the protection dilemma is such that on the one hand, the capacity of the Government to meet the needs of internally displaced persons is limited, and on the other hand, United Nations agencies and other humanitarian actors are constrained by a lack of access due to security concerns, limited coordination mechanisms in place and a general lack of international support to deal with such pressing humanitarian issues in Libya. While the country is perceived as an upper middle-income country with vast oil resources, the cost of the political conflict has taken a severe toll on the Libyan economy, which remained in recession for the fifth consecutive year in 2017. Political strife, weak security conditions, and blockaded oil infrastructure continue to constrain the supply side of the economy, which is now near collapse. The effect of this situation on all Libyans is clear as I witnessed long queues at every bank and gas station.
In this context, the reality is that many IDPs have not been sufficiently protected and their human rights needs have not been met, in line with international law and standards, including the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. It must be stressed that in the midst of the economic crisis, there are very specific displacement-related issues that are not experienced by the general population and that need to be addressed. The Government’s approach has been largely ad hoc and it must intensify its efforts and devote greater resources, planning and attention to meeting the needs of IDPs. In order to improve the Government’s response to the displacement crisis, a vital step will be to put in place a comprehensive roadmap on internal displacement implemented nationally and developed with full participation of the relevant municipalities and the IDPs themselves, to ensure that the necessary budgets are in place and to guide more effective governance and response structures. The signing and ratification of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) could also be helpful to the Libyan Government as a guidance tool to regulate Government’s actions at the national and regional levels. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Framework on Durable Solutions for IDPs is also a valuable tool in providing guidance to States.
The displacement situation in Libya
Libya has experienced several waves of armed conflict and displacement movements since the 2011 Revolution between forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and those seeking to overthrow his Government. Libya has since suffered from political instability and clashes between rival armed groups, which escalated in 2014, triggering armed conflicts in Benghazi, Tripoli, Misrata and other cities causing widespread destruction of property, civilian deaths and massive displacement. An estimated 400,000 people (equivalent to 6-7% of the population of Libya) became internally displaced as a result of the nationwide renewed conflict from 2014 onwards and many still suffer the effects of this displacement. In addition, most foreign embassies, the United Nations, ICRC and other international agencies were forced to withdraw their staff and close their missions in 2014 due to the deteriorating security situation. For the United Nations, this evacuation status has still not yet been lifted.
Displacement movements are still ongoing in Libya with multi-faceted causes, such as tensions leading to armed clashes in cities, lack of access to basic services, conflicts related to housing, land and property, political persecution, attacks based on alleged terrorist or party affiliations and tribal and ethnic clashes. Displacement nearly always generates conditions of severe hardship and suffering for the affected populations and can lead to further human rights violations and discrimination as a direct result of the displacement. In effect, IDPs in Libya have many times suffered from human rights violations leading to their displacement as well as violations after displacement.
During the time of my visit, it was estimated that the number of IDPs who are still displaced in Libya is approximately 193,000 and the number of displaced persons who have returned to their areas of origin since the beginning of 2016 is around 317,000. These figures have not been thoroughly validated.
The situation of many of the IDPs across the west, east and south of Libya is dire and should no longer be downplayed by the Government. Many IDPs, the vast majority of whom are women and children, are traumatized by the violence that prompted them to flee, and cost them their homes, their livelihoods and their family members. An alarming number of displaced Libyans suffer from conflict-related psychological traumas and require urgent psychosocial support.
Although many IDPs have returned to their homes, concerns remain that must be addressed regarding the conditions to which they are returning such as safety and security, access to services and discrimination and a low standard of living. Return must only take place voluntarily, on an informed basis and in conditions of security, dignity and with appropriate support in place.
The prospects for new displacement and mass population movement throughout the country is high given the instability and lack of access to services due to destruction caused by conflict in many parts of Libya. The political and security situation in Libya remains highly volatile and is disrupting people’s access to basic services, including cash, fuel and electricity, as well as severely constraining life-saving protection and humanitarian assistance.
There is a need for more and accurate data about the number of IDPs across the country and their location and needs. What is starkly evident however, is that hundreds of thousands, including persons from all ethnic and tribal communities are living in extremely precarious conditions and often under the constant threat of violence, persecution or further displacement, many under suspicion, and with inadequate shelter, healthcare, food and water. Many have few if any financial resources and little prospects of employment or income generating activities. Of particular concern is the negative role of armed groups, who usually control territory in localised areas. I have received reports of armed groups destroying houses, forcing people to leave their homes or preventing their return.
One major challenge that I see in Libya regarding displacement is the lack of acknowledgement of the existence of many population groups of IDPs in particular urban to urban displacement. It is crucial that all IDPs are recognized by the Government in order to acknowledge and address their specific needs. The vast majority of IDPs live in rented accommodations or houses of families. The majority of those outside so-called camps are receiving little if any humanitarian assistance and their situation must be better understood and addressed as well as the needs and problems of host communities supporting them. This will require data, resources and expertise that are currently absent and must be quickly put in place. Those outside of camps must not be left to fend for themselves and they must be identified and provided with relevant information and assistance to the fullest extent possible. I call on the Government and its humanitarian partners to develop an out of camp strategy to cater for the needs of these internally displaced persons. Such a strategy must be based on the needs as expressed by the IDPs themselves, ensuring full participation.
In the IDP camps that I was able to visit, essential needs are being met and it was encouraging to note that parents reported that their children are attending schools and most facilities had some form of primary healthcare service in place. Nevertheless, for some IDPs, six to seven years after their displacement, they remain living in cramped and extremely basic shelters, with several family members sharing a single room and with communal bathing and cooking facilities.
The situation of women and girls in IDP camps and conflict affected areas is of particular concern and although I was not informed of allegations of rape, sexual and gender based violence, I am concerned that this may constitute a hidden crisis of abuse with fear, stigma and cultural factors as well as impunity for perpetrators leading to under-reporting of abuse to the relevant authorities.
The situation of many IDPs in the south of Libya, where access is entirely restricted due to security, is largely unknown and neglected which is deeply worrying. I am deeply concerned by the reality that many IDPs and overstretched host families in the south are living in dire circumstance, insecurity and lack access to basic services. During my visit I was informed numerous times of the complete absence of services in the south, such as hospitals and schools which is forcing many to leave their homes. While much more work is required to assess the needs of IDPs in areas that are to some extent accessible to humanitarian and development actors, the situation of those in hard to reach locations remains extremely difficult to assess and is a major cause for concern. It is imperative that the Government ensures that efforts are stepped up to provide assistance to the fullest extent possible to the vulnerable communities in these areas, including those at protection risk because of tribal conflicts and land issues.
It is my preliminary finding that in practice there are insufficient coordinated efforts and protocols in place specifically targeting internally displaced persons. There is currently no legal or policy framework for the protection of IDPs in Libya, which hampers the ability of the Government and other partners to respond to internal displacement with coordinated and clearly defined protection and accountability mechanisms, structures, procedures and dedicated budgets. I strongly recommend that a Roadmap is put in place, in line with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Such measures would clearly define responsibilities across Ministries and other dedicated bodies, including the Ministry of State for Displaced as well as the Ministry of Social Services and various committees and would allow for more coherent and legally-based responses. This would also assist municipalities hosting IDPs and those where safe, dignified and voluntary return is possible.
Comprehensive needs assessment and intention surveys are also required to ensure that appropriate assistance and durable solutions are provided to IDPs. In view of the many IDPs who have returned to their homes in recent years and the projected return of over 40,000 Tawarghans these coming months, it is all the more essential that all IDPs are well-informed of the process of return and their rights related to safe and voluntary return as well as durable solutions. I cannot stress enough the fact that return of IDPs is not equivalent to solving the issue of displacement, and it is imperative that the Government ensures the safety and assistance of IDPs during return, as well as the rebuilding of their homes and standard of living. So long as there remain unresolved specific displacement-related issues, IDPs remain IDPs and have not achieved durable solutions.
In view of the frequently shifting dynamics and complex nature of the crisis in Libya, a Roadmap would also ensure that preparations are put in place in order to establish programs and deploy rapid assistance at the earliest opportunity to respond to any new displacement flows. It would moreover allow for the Government to better inform the international community on how to best provide tangible support to the Government. Mapping of locations and data of IDPs across Libya and especially in the larger cities such as Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi will be important to ensure that all actors are aware of the groups and areas in need of coordinated assistance.
Displacement outside of camps
Many IDPs are displaced in urban areas where their distress is less visible, but it must not allow us to become complacent about the situation of these hundreds of thousands across the country who are still trying to rebuild their lives or who are facing immense suffering on a daily basis due to their current displacement. The impact on their lives is immense and the vulnerability and suffering that they endure is devastating and must be recognized and addressed consistently by the Government and its national and international partners. No verified figures are available regarding the total number of Libyans who are displaced in urban settings such as Tripoli and Benghazi, also due to many IDPs fearing protection risks if they are registered, and I am concerned that this aspect of displacement in Libya is relatively less attended to, both nationally and internationally.
IDPs are frequently living in substandard conditions in unfinished or abandoned buildings. Some are living in rented accommodation or empty factories where they are forced to pay rent, leading to a precarious situation since their financial resources are low or exhausted and they become unable to pay rents, resulting in evictions and renewed displacement. This was the case in Misrata where IDPs from Benghazi whom I met were told to leave the housing where they were living at short notice and with no support on alternative housing. These IDPs do not only face harsh conditions but also uncertainty about their futures because of insecurity of tenure. The elderly, children, persons with disabilities, pregnant women and other highly vulnerable persons must be the highest priority in these cases.
IDPs fleeing the east - Discrimination and security
Many IDPs in Libya who experience constant insecurity in their places of origin, take the difficult decision not to return to their homes. This is particularly an issue for IDPs from the east who became displaced as a result of violations against them by the authorities and are now facing even more violations as IDPs. I met with IDPs displaced from Benghazi to Tripoli and to Misrata, who are not able to return home due to security concerns, impeded freedom of movement and a fear of becoming victims of violations of human rights, including arbitrary arrest, torture, unlawful killings, indiscriminate attacks, disappearances or forced displacement. This demonstrates that durable solutions do not lie in their mere physical return. Many of the IDPs I spoke with also shared stories of not feeling safe even within the cities in which they are now living, and experiencing daily discrimination, which interferes with their ability to secure the livelihoods for themselves and their families. In many cases, this fear prevents them from even requesting assistance from the authorities.
Although I am well aware that discrimination is not a policy of the Government, it is still very much present in Libya and particularly targeting IDPs. One seven-year old girl whom I met in one of the camps told me that she did not like going to school “because the teachers hate me and they say I am a child of terrorists and should go back to where I belong”.
I regret to say that I have been informed by numerous IDPs from the east that they or their family members have suffered arbitrary detention, torture, witnessing of executions, and disappearances of family members. Investigations into these abuses must be taken extremely seriously. There is apparently little trust in the judicial system and I was told on a number of occasions that many judges and lawyers are pressured into not taking on cases involving human rights abuses against IDPs due to the political sensitivity.
Several IDPs reported to me that due to the risk of abuses, lack of protection and livelihoods options for them in Libya and the conditions they face, this has led them to reflect on leaving Libya by the sea through illegal migration routes. In fact, some of those internally displaced end up joining dangerous migration routes in an attempt to seek protection outside of the country.
There is also a fear amongst many IDPs that their youth is at high risk of being recruited by armed groups. While legitimate security concerns were reported to me by the Libyan authorities, including that ISIL fighters may try to infiltrate IDP communities, it must be recalled that the overwhelming majority of IDPs are innocent victims of conflict and they must be respected and treated on a humanitarian basis within the framework of protection of civilians. Any arrests must meet certain criteria, be justified, specified in law and non-discriminatory.
Arrest and detention of IDPs after their displacement were reported to me numerous times and raises concerns, including with regard to due process, conditions in prisons, treatment and duration of detention, including allegations of torture, and access to those detained by lawyers and family members. Many IDPs from Benghazi have been targeted for suspicion of supporting terrorist groups and many of those displaced I spoke to reported to me that male family members had been detained since 2014 and that they had had little or no information about their location or contact with them. International standards require that no person can be arbitrarily detained or held without charge and those who have not been charged with a crime should be released without delay.
Access to services
Challenges relating to civil documentation were frequently raised by the IDPs whom I met. Many left their documents as they were fleeing their homes and consequently now face challenges to gaining access to services. Documentation is an essential first step to ensuring assistance to IDPs. Of particular concern is the requirement for IDPs to travel back to their place of origin in order to complete the necessary administrative requirements to re-issue valid documents. IDPs are frequently not able to do so safely and this requirement may put them in danger. Recognizing the security and logistical challenges facing IDPs, the national Government and the municipal authorities should take necessary steps to ensure that documentation can be issued and banks accessed in places of displacement rather than their place of origin and with no undue administrative barriers. I urge the Government to give a high priority to this issue and ensure that all civil documentations are available to IDPs, including birth, marriage and death certificates. This may require innovative solutions, including the use of mobile documentation and facilities to reach IDPs in their locations.
The need for accurate and comprehensive disaggregated data on IDPs is vital and must be quickly improved. While some positive steps have been taken in regard to data gathering such as the Displacement Tracking Matrix and intention surveys, there is still an urgent need to conduct further detailed profiling and needs assessments, including for the most vulnerable, in order to monitor the protection needs of women, children, youth, older persons, and persons with disabilities. I very much welcome efforts to implement a profiling exercise with the support of UNHCR, UNFPA and JIPS, as I definitely see the strong need for it in the Libyan context. At the same time, I strongly recommend that if such profiling is to be useful as a responsible undertaking, it should have a significant displacement focus, specifically looking at the situation of the IDPs compared to the overall population in Libya.
Progress towards achieving durable solutions for the Tawarghans
The nature of the conflict in 2011, meant that the entire population of the city of Tawargha, approximately 43,000 people, were forced to flee their homes and the majority ended up in camps around Tripoli and Benghazi. It is now seven years since they became internally displaced and many of the Tawarghans I spoke with were eager to return home but also apprehensive about the conditions they would find upon return. Following a political dialogue from 2015 to 2017 between the Tawarghans and Misratans, an agreement was reached for the Tawarghans to return and the date was set for 1 February 2018. From all the actors I have spoken to, it is clear that there is a need for increased communication regarding the return and clarity of leadership and accountability regarding the reconstruction and reestablishment of the services needed to provide the returned IDPs with sustainable livelihoods. The return should be gradual and ensure that conditions are established for it to be a durable solution.
The return of the Tawarghans to an area that experienced intense fighting furthermore exposes them to threats, including the danger of Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs). Many of their homes have been damaged or destroyed, and infrastructure and livelihoods were completely disrupted, including schools, hospitals and other public buildings that were frequently used by parties to the conflict during the course of hostilities. One young Tawarghan girl whom I met in one of the camps expressed apprehension of returning due to a fear of mines that may be hidden in their homes when they return. It is essential that the return of the Tawarghans is voluntary and informed and that they do not face pressure to return prematurely. It is vital that their return is monitored and supported to the fullest extent possible. Assumptions that they return to conditions of safety and relative normality must be verified and necessary assistance provided.
I urge the government and the international community to ensure that they do not neglect the need to integrate durable solutions and transitional steps towards them at the earliest phase, such as re-establishing livelihoods and initiating recovery programmes. Massive investment in rebuilding infrastructure and homes will be required and I urge that there be a strategy for development in order to prevent further displacement or situations of protracted displacement. It is essential that development partners be engaged at the earliest phase to integrate development approaches into the humanitarian phase as soon as possible. In this respect, the views and wishes of IDPs must be fully taken into account and respected, including their right to choose a durable solution that is appropriate for them.
For those Tawarghans who will continue to live in the camps before returning home, the Government, local authorities and international actors should promote and support IDP efforts to be better organized and to ensure their participation in the management of the camp. It is especially crucial that women and children are given a forum whereby they can express their needs and for them to have a stronger and more unified voice.
National responses to internal displacement
Having in place appropriate and effective institutions at the national and municipal levels to respond to internal displacement is an essential factor to achieve solutions for IDPs. Libya has taken an essential first step in assigning a Minister in charge of IDPs, the Ministry of State for Displaced, as well as a High Committee for the Return of IDPs and other council level committees across parts of the country. However greater coordination mechanisms are needed in order to have clear objectives and clarity of roles of key institutions in responding to internal displacement as well as their partnerships with both national and international partners. This should be addressed as a matter of urgency. I was informed that allocated resources and coordination across the Ministries and between national and municipal counterparts remains poor. Nevertheless, with appropriate resources, capacity and above all political will, the Minister of IDPs has the potential to function more effectively and be better able to respond to the IDP situation. Addressing internal displacement within national development frameworks is vital to achieve durable solutions for those in protracted displacement.
The main responsibility falls on the Libyan Government, yet it undeniably faces an immense task that it cannot cope with alone. It is clear that an urgent and coordinated response from the Government and national and international humanitarian organizations working in stronger partnership with each other is required. The international community must urgently bolster support to humanitarian agencies working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of the hundreds of thousand people affected by the displacement crisis. Equally, the Government must allow United Nations and other humanitarian actors to function freely in areas under its control and where security allows it, with unhindered access to all locations and IDP populations. Armed groups, including those aligned to the Government, should also facilitate, rather than hinder such access. While the Government’s concern for the security of humanitarian actors is greatly appreciated, bureaucratic and other restrictions on full and rapid access to IDPs and at-risk communities are currently a major impediment to their work and effectiveness and should be lifted.
While humanitarian assistance must be the highest priority to save lives now, the Libyan Government, together with its national and international humanitarian and development partners must already begin to take steps towards durable solutions and improving recovery strategies. It should also prioritise community reconciliation and social cohesion projects that address the possibility of return for some or local integration for those who are unable or unwilling to return. Where the possibility of voluntary, safe and dignified return exists, it must be recognized that justice, reconciliation and the rebuilding of trust between communities may be required in the short, medium and long-term and this may require specially trained units, police and other public officials to avoid problems and tensions emerging.
International assistance to address internal displacement
It is a sad reality that other ongoing crisis situations, including those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, have understandably required much needed attention and resources from the international community. Nevertheless, it is vital that attention to Libya by the international community does not fade at this vital time of protracted displacement and need for durable solutions for returning IDPs and that humanitarian and development support is maintained and enhanced.
The staff of the United Nations humanitarian agencies in Libya, as well as other international organizations, must be commended for the exercise of their essential work. However, they are stretched thin and can only work within the confines of the resources and access that they have. Those resources and access are gravely inadequate at the present time. These dedicated agencies bear the brunt of criticism on the ground and yet it is the lack of access and shortfall in funding across all sectors, including shelter, food, water and sanitation, and protection, that hampers their work and is a shame on both the Libyan Government and the international community. While the Libyan Government lacks the capacity and resources to fully meet the humanitarian needs of IDPs and development and reconstruction requirements, it is imperative that the international community does not turn its back on these issues in Libya and remains a consistent and reliable partner in providing humanitarian and development assistance. Improvements are also needed at the local level, where numerous actors and the UN seemed to not be fully coordinated in terms of how they could and should be implementing on the ground.
The Launch of the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan held on 25 January 2018 in Tripoli, and in which I participated, was a positive reinforcement that the humanitarian plight of the Libyan people continues to be of concern to the international community. I hope, and I encourage partners to ensure, that the funding and initiatives within this response plan fully includes IDPs who require immediate and longer-term assistance and to address specific displacement-related issues. Equally, I urge the wider donor community to consider much more seriously the immense need for additional humanitarian funding within Libya. Challenges facing the Government are massive and yet its capacity to respond is limited and constrained, including by the economic crisis.
I wish to also express my deep disappointment of not being able to visit the east of Libya, as intended. Despite extensive discussions with the Benghazi authorities following up to my planned visit on my last day of the mission in Libya, and with detailed preparations already in place concerning travelling to Benghazi where I had planned to speak with the Municipalities and IDPs who are facing grave conditions there, the visit was cancelled last minute by the Benghazi authorities, much to my regret. I have been informed by various sources of the dire situation facing IDPs in the east and would strongly urge that renewed attention is brought to their plight. It would also have been a good opportunity to see first-hand the conditions that oblige persons to flee the city.
Finally, I take this opportunity to again thank the Government of National Accord of Libya for its invitation to visit and its cooperation with my mandate at this critical time, which I hope constitutes the beginning of a constructive and fruitful engagement ahead. I also wish to thank the various municipality authorities with whom discussions were frank and to the point. Most importantly, my appreciation goes to the IDPs themselves who opened up their homes to me and my delegation, those who presented their analyses and recommendations on how to move forward, and shared their aspirations for the future.
I also express my gratitude to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for their continuous and generous support in facilitating all aspects of my visit which ensured its success. I want to also thank the numerous other UN agencies, institutions and individuals whom I met, in particular the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other key agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations, who provided valuable information to me and who are working to provide support and assistance to internally displaced persons.
My full report and recommendations to the Government will be submitted to the Human Rights Council in June 2018. I stand ready to support all efforts by the Government, the United Nations and other humanitarian and human rights actors to promote and protect the human rights of internally displaced persons in Libya.