Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 17 April 2020
We are gravely concerned by the continued fighting in Libya, and the repeated impact the hostilities have had on civilians, hospitals and other medical facilities assigned to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite numerous calls for a global ceasefire during these difficult times, including from the UN Secretary-General, we have received reports that attacks have in fact escalated in Libya. We call on all parties to the conflict to immediately observe a humanitarian pause.
On three separate occasions from 6 to 10 April, the al Khadra Hospital in Tripoli, which has been assigned to receive patients infected with COVID-19, was struck by rockets. Intensified fighting along the western coast over the past week has resulted in the suspension of services at four hospitals in Sabratha and Surman. Since the start of the year, up until 31 March, the UN Support Mission in Libya has documented at least 131 civilian casualties (64 deaths and 67 injuries). This figure represents an overall increase in civilian casualties of 45 per cent compared to the previous three months.
Indiscriminate attacks as well as the targeting of hospitals and other medical facilities are violations of international humanitarian law and could, depending on the circumstances, amount to war crimes. Attacks that damage or otherwise affect the regular functioning of healthcare facilities are even more deplorable in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, given the country's health system is already over-stretched and under-resourced. The Global Health Security Index places Libya among 27 countries out of a total of 195 that are "most vulnerable to emerging outbreaks of illness".
Whilst welcoming the reported release of more than 1,600 prisoners in Libya, we are concerned by the authorities' failure for the most part to include women and children in measures to decongest prisons and detention facilities in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. We are alarmed that only a handful of women and children have been released. While the exact number of women prisoners is unknown, it is estimated they could number close to 500. A number of children have also been arbitrarily detained without any charges, sometimes on account of their families' alleged links with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters. Some are as young as 12-14 years old. Children are usually not separated from the adults which puts them at greater risk of abuse, and there is an absence of trained female guards.
We urge the authorities to release anyone whose detention is arbitrary and to strictly limit pre-trial detention. Women, children, the elderly and those with a medical condition, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees currently in detention in Libya should be released as a matter of urgency, given the COVID-19 outbreak, severe overcrowding in detention facilities and the lack of adequate healthcare in these facilities.
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