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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN report documents litany of violations and abuses amid chaos in Libya

New report on Libya

25 February 2016

Arabic | French

GENEVA (25 February 2016) – A UN report* published on Thursday has documented widespread violations and abuses committed in Libya since the beginning of 2014. The report recommends urgent measures to fight against impunity and to strengthen and reform the justice sector.

“Despite the human rights situation in Libya, the country only sporadically makes the headlines. A multitude of actors – both State and non-State – are accused of very serious violations and abuses that may, in many cases, amount to war crimes,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

The violations and abuses documented relate to:

  • Unlawful killings: Cases were reported in all conflict areas and by most major armed groups since 2014, including executions of people taken captive, detained, abducted or perceived to be voicing dissent.
    Indiscriminate attacks: Since 2014, many attacks appear to have been indiscriminate in nature, impacting in particular on highly populated residential areas, including in Benghazi, Tripoli, Warshafana, the Nafusa Mountains area, and in the south of Libya. Sufficient precautions have not been taken to protect civilians as well as people and objects given protection under international humanitarian law, including health facilities, ambulances and medical workers, and humanitarian workers.
  • Torture and ill-treatment: Use of torture is widespread, particularly in detention facilities, with reports of beatings with plastic pipes or electrical cables, prolonged suspension in stress positions, solitary confinement, electrocution, deprivation of adequate food or water, threats of a sexual nature and extortion. Torture has resulted in the death of detainees in various detention places, including at several military police and military intelligence facilities.
  • Arbitrary detention: Since the 2011 armed conflict, thousands of individuals remain in detention, the vast majority without any proper examination of their cases. Some have been held in secret or unrecognized facilities operated by armed groups. Given the limited functioning of courts, there has been little recourse to judicial review of the legality of these detentions and, even when available, court orders for release have not always been implemented.
  • Abductions and disappearances: A number of disappearances have been attributed to State forces and armed groups.
  • Gender-based violence and discrimination against women: There has been a series of attacks by armed groups against women activists since 2014. The assassination of well-known activists, such as Salwa Bugaighis, Fareeha Al-Berkawi and Intissar Al-Hasaeri, and the threats, harassment and assaults targetting many others appear designed to send a broader message that women should not be vocal in the public sphere. Reports of sexual violence have proved very difficult to document because of fear of retaliation, stigma, family pressure or trauma. In one case, a woman said she was abducted in Tripoli by members of an armed group, drugged and raped repeatedly over six months. She also provided information that six girls as young as 11 were subjected to sexual violence by members of the same group.
  • Human rights defenders and journalists: Since 2014, human rights defenders have been targeted, through assassination, attempted murder, abduction, threats, surveillance, and raids on their homes and offices. The fear generated by such actions, the high profile of those targeted, and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators have forced many human rights defenders to go into hiding or to flee. Journalists have also been subjected to killings, death threats, arbitrary detention and abduction.
  • Migrants: Particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by authorities, armed groups and smugglers, many migrants have endured prolonged arbitrary detention, torture, forced labour, extortion, trafficking and sexual violence. Sub-Saharan Africans have been particularly at risk, while migrant women have been facing sexual violence and exploitation both in and outside detention facilities. A large number of migrants remain in detention without access to judicial review, including at least 3,245 people in western Libya alone.
  • Children: Cases of forced recruitment and use of children in hostilities by groups pledging allegiance to ISIL are also documented. Some were reportedly forced to undergo religious and military training, and to watch videos of beheadings, and some said they were sexually abused.

“One of the most striking elements of this report lies in the complete impunity which continues to prevail in Libya and the systemic failures of the justice system,” Zeid said.

“This report clearly shows that the justice system does not have the means or capacity to conduct prompt, independent and credible investigations or to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations or abuses,” the High Commissioner added.

Since 2014, judges and prosecutors have been subject to killings, court bombings, assaults and abductions. As a result, courts in Derna, Sirte and Benghazi ceased activities in 2014, with limited re-activation of courts in parts of Benghazi in 2015, and victims have had little recourse to seek protection or to an effective remedy. This impunity is facilitating further abuses.

“In the absence of proper protection, the judiciary cannot deliver justice,” says the report, which notes that the system for providing security is “inadequate and flawed,” as thousands of members of armed groups have been integrated into the Judicial Police with limited vetting

Whilst recognizing the significant challenges facing the authorities, the report recommends urgent action to stop the proliferation of armed groups through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and a vetting programme to remove and prevent the recruitment of individuals responsible for human rights violations or abuses.

The report further calls upon the international community to ensure that the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over Libya, has the necessary resources to carry out its investigations and prosecutions.

The report also suggests a number of priority actions, which include:

  • addressing the security threats to administration of justice
  • reforming the Judicial Police
  • establishing a robust victim and witness protection programme
  • establishing a specialized judicial structure within the Libyan courts to focus on crimes under international law
  • organizing a high-level meeting to bring together Libyans actors and international partners to discuss initiatives to increase accountability in Libya
  • listing individuals responsible for planning, directing or committing acts that violate applicable international human rights law or international humanitarian law, or acts that constitute human rights abuses, under the Security Council sanctions regime, whilst ensuring that any imposed sanction is accompanied by rigorous procedural safeguards that guarantee due process standards.


*The report was prepared on the basis of an investigation established by the High Commissioner pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 28/30.

Two versions of the report are available.

To access the shorter version of the report, please go to:
To access a more extensive version, with detailed findings of the investigation and a map, please go to:


For more information and media requests, please contact please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / [email protected]) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / [email protected])

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