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Press briefing on Libya

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva 
Date: 20 December 2019
Subject: Libya


We are concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Libya, including the impact of the ongoing conflict on civilians, attacks against human rights defenders and journalists, treatment of migrants and refugees, conditions of detention and impunity.  

In 2019, our Office along with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has so far documented at least 284 civilian deaths and 363 injuries as a result of the armed conflict in Libya – an increase of more than a quarter over the number of casualties recorded during the same period last year.

Airstrikes were the leading cause of civilian casualties, accounting for 182 deaths and 212 injuries, followed by ground fighting, improvised explosive devices, abductions and killings. During the same period, the World Health Organization has documented 61 conflict-related attacks against health care facilities and personnel, which is a 69 percent increase compared to the same period in 2018. 

We have grave concerns about the impact the conflict is having on densely populated areas such as Abu Salim and Al Hadba, where an additional 100,000 civilians are at risk of being displaced, on top of the 343,000 who already have been.

Journalists, media workers and human rights defenders continue to be subjected to violence, threats and harassment. In the most recent such case, Reda Fhelboom, a well-known human rights defender and journalist, was detained on 14 December by an armed group at Mitiga airport in Tripoli, following his arrival from Tunis. We are concerned that his subsequent disappearance may be linked to his human rights or journalistic work. His disappearance is a violation of Libya’s obligations to ensure his human rights. We have also observed an increase in cases of hate speech and incitement to violence fueling a climate of mistrust, fear and violence among different groups in Libya.

As you know, the treatment of migrants and refugees in Libya has been a matter of huge concern over the past few years, and they continue to be routinely subjected to violation and abuses, including extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, abduction for ransom, extortion, and forced labour , by State officials, traffickers and smugglers. 

Between January and November, more than 8,600 migrants were intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya, which of course cannot be considered by any stretch of the imagination as a safe port for disembarkation. Many of those intercepted were returned to official and unofficial detention centres where they are routinely subjected to serious human rights violations and abuses. We are also concerned that parties to the conflict in Libya continue to store weapons and ammunition in close proximity to civilian locations, particularly detention centres where migrants and refugees are being detained. We remind the parties of their the obligation to take all feasible precautions against the effects of attacks.  

To date in 2019, an estimated 8,813 individuals have been held in 28 official prisons under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, of whom an estimated 60 percent were in pre-trial detention. We have continued to receive credible reports of arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence, and overcrowding in detention facilities under the control of the Ministry of the Interior. Conditions in unofficial places of detention, often run by armed groups, are even more difficult to monitor and are likely to be even worse.

Finally, we are concerned about the continuing climate of impunity in Libya, including the 15 December acquittal by the Tripoli Appeals Court of all the defendants, including former intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi, in the trial relating to the 1996 massacre of 1,200 people in the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. The Abu Salim massacre was one of the grievances that gave rise to the 2011 uprising in Libya. We reiterate the call made in September for the creation of an investigative mechanism into serious crimes committed in Libya.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Media Section -mediaunit@ohchr.org
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