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Oral update of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Libya pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 37/41

40th session of the Human Rights Council

Address by Andrew Gilmour
Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights

Geneva, 21 March 2019
Salle XX, Palais des Nations

Mr. President,
Excellencies,

The persisting conflict and lawlessness in Libya means that only limited progress can be reported since our last update in September.

In the first 11 months of 2018, the human rights component of UNSMIL documented a 40% increase compared to 2017.

Recent military operations in the South and in Derna have resulted in many civilian casualties, arbitrary arrests and hundreds of displaced families who cannot return to their homes for fear of reprisal.

While welcoming the establishment in September 2018 of committees to review the legality of the detention in some detention centres, we remain profoundly concerned that thousands of individuals remain held arbitrarily, many incommunicado, subjected to torture and sexual assault, and denied adequate medical care.

We reiterate our call for all those detained arbitrarily across Libya to be released, and for those detained lawfully to be transferred to official prisons under judicial oversight. And we call on the Government of National Accord to ensure unimpeded access of human rights monitors to detention facilities.

Women in Libya continue to experience severe restrictions of their freedom of movement, their right to participate in the public sphere, their choice of dress and behaviour, as well as intimidation. In several places of detention, women are subjected to torture and sexual abuse.

The establishment, in November 2018, of the Women’s Support and Empowerment Unit within the Presidential Council is a welcome development, and it must now be provided with resources.

Migrants are being subjected to "unimaginable horrors" from the moment they enter Libya. On 20 December, UNSMIL and OHCHR issued a joint report, which documents patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses suffered by migrants at the hands of State officials and members of armed groups, as well as atrocities committed by smugglers and traffickers.

As we meet here today, torture and ill-treatment of migrants in Libyan detention centres continue unabated. A few weeks ago, at a UNHCR transit center in Niger (and the Government of Niger should be thanked for their generous role in this), I met with migrants and refugees recently freed from detention in Libya. Every one of them – women, men, girls and boys – had been raped, and many repeatedly tortured by electrocution. All testified about the widespread extortion technique, whereby the torturers force the victims to call their families, who then are subjected to the screams of their loved ones which, they are told, will continue till they pay a ransom.

Mr. President, I can honestly tell the members of this Council that in 30 years in this line of work, those were among the most harrowing accounts I have ever heard.

We call on the Libyan authorities and all relevant partners to ensure that recommendations contained in the report are urgently followed up.

It must be clear to all that Libya is still far from being a safe haven, and migrant ships in the Central Mediterranean should not be returned to Libya. Restrictions on life-saving work of humanitarian search and rescue organizations should be lifted to end the situation by which they are obliged to stand by, helplessly, while human beings drown before their eyes. And we recommend to the European Union and its members States that they urgently reconsider their operational support to the Libyan Coast Guard, which continues to endanger the lives of migrants in distress at sea, and whose operations lead to the return of intercepted migrants to conditions of arbitrary detention and torture.

Mr. President,

UNSMIL and OHCHR have taken concrete steps to address the grave issues of concerns described in the report of the High Commissioner, supporting local civil society, victims and their relatives. We are also working with Government entities and the international community to screen recipients of technical assistance and capacity-building programmes and ensure accountability for violations committed in Libya.

Protecting civilians from the conflict, restoring the rule of law, ensuring the release of those arbitrarily detained, addressing the situation of migrants and refugees, and combating impunity for all past and ongoing human rights violations require the sustained engagement of all of us. We call on all Member States to join efforts to that end.

Thank you.