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Oral update of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Libya pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 40/27

43rd session of the Human Rights Council
Address by Ms. Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 18 June 2020
Salle des Assemblées, Palais des Nations

Madam President, Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

On behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it is my honour to update you on the situation of human rights in Libya and the effectiveness of technical assistance and capacity-building measures received by the Government of Libya (A/HRC/43/75).

The offensive launched on 4 April 2019 by the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Haftar and subsequent fighting has resulted in a serious deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian situation in Libya. A million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance and since the attack on Tripoli started, 201,000 people were forced to flee their homes, mostly in and around the capital.

OHCHR reiterates its calls for an immediate ceasefire. Ending the fighting and returning to the political track is the only way to save lives and to end civilian suffering in Libya.

Madam President,

OHCHR remains gravely concerned about the very heavy toll of the conflict on civilians. Between 1 January and 31 December 2019, at least 656 civilian casualties were recorded by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), including 287 deaths and 369 injured. Airstrikes were the leading cause of civilian casualties, followed by ground fighting, improvised explosive devices, abductions and killings. The highest number of civilian casualties was documented in the western part of the country

So far in 2020, UNSMIL recorded at least 146 civilians killed and 235 civilians injured, mainly caused by indiscriminate shelling on civilian populated areas, with the vast majority of casualties attributed to the LNA.

As of 4 June 2020, WHO reported 72 conflict-related attacks against health-care facilities and personnel since April 2019. On three separate occasions from 6 to 10 April 2020, the al Khadra Hospital in Tripoli, which had been assigned to receive patients with COVID-19, was struck by rockets attributed to the LNA.

Madam President,

Summary executions and other unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, incitement to violence on social media, torture and ill-treatment, as well as gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, continue to be committed in a climate of complete impunity.  Human rights defenders, activists and journalists continue to be attacked and to flee the country.

Whilst welcoming the reported release of more than 2,000 prisoners in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain concerned by the authorities' failure to include women and children in these measures, with only a handful released. Moreover, thousands of men, women and children remain arbitrarily detained in detention facilities under the control of the Ministries of Justice, Defence and Interior and in facilities managed by armed groups. UNSMIL and OHCHR continue to receive reports of ill-treatment and torture of detainees, and of incommunicado detention, denial of medical care and family contact as well as sexual violence in numerous detention facilities.

In 2019, more than 9,000 migrants and refugees were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, and at least 4,000 since early 2020 to date. The majority of those disembarked in Libya continue to be brought to detention centres often located in close proximity to the fighting and on compounds controlled by armed groups.

On 27 January 2020, OHCHR and UNSMIL jointly published a report on the July 2019 airstrike on the Tajoura Detention Centre, which resulted in the death of at least 53 migrants and refugees. We wish to reiterate the call for accountability made in this report, noting that no efforts have been made to prevent a similar incident from occurring.

OHCHR and UNSMIL also continue to receive accounts of migrants and refugees subjected to summary executions, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, sexual violence, trafficking, extortion, and deprivation of food, water, medical healthcare, and other basic services, including in detention facilities affected by COVID-19.

On 28 April 2020, we publicly raised concern about the deportation of at least 1,400 migrants from eastern Libya to Chad, Niger, Somalia and Sudan.

On 8 May, we expressed deep concern about reports of failure to assist and coordinated pushbacks of migrant boats in the central Mediterranean, including reports that Maltese authorities requested commercial ships to push migrant boats in distress back to Libya.

We have repeatedly stated that Libya cannot be considered a safe port for disembarkation and that migrant boats should not be returned to Libya, in respect of Member States’ search and rescue and international human rights law obligations.

On 27 May, at least 30 migrants were shot dead and 11 injured by an armed group affiliated with traffickers in Mezda. This incident is the latest of ruthless acts committed against migrants in Libya.

I would like to reiterate our call that migrants and refugees should be urgently released from immigration detention centres and have non-discriminatory access to humanitarian protection, collective shelters or other safe places. There is an urgent need to ensure that humanitarian search and rescue efforts continue unimpeded in the central Mediterranean and that those rescued at sea can swiftly and safely disembark in line with international human rights law standards.

Madam President,

Effectively addressing the widespread impunity for human rights violations and abuses committed in Libya is not only an obligation but can also serve as a deterrent to prevent possible further violations and contribute to peace and stability in the country.

We were extremely shocked about the discovery of eight mass graves in Tarhouna last week and call for a prompt, thorough, effective, transparent, and independent investigation to establish the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by all parties in Libya. 

In our report, we called on the Human Rights Council to establish an international investigative body into human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Libya. We therefore welcome the statement of Prime Minister Serraj during the high-level segment of this Council in March supporting the creation of such a mechanism as foreseen in the draft resolution on Libya.

I thank you.