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Libya: Alarming levels of violence against women and girls must end, says UN expert

23 December 2022

GENEVA (23 December 2022) – A UN human rights expert today called on the authorities in Libya to take urgent steps to protect all women and girls in the country from rampant violence and mistreatment, to fully implement prevention measures, and ensure protection and support for victims.

Following an eight-day visit to the country, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Reem Alsalem, said urgent action was needed to end the continuous cycle of violence against Libyan and non-Libyan women and girls which is compounded by complete impunity for crimes committed.

“I have left Libya feeling deeply disturbed at the widespread, systematic, and grave levels of violence faced by Libyan women and children, including girls. Femicide, or the killing of women on multiple grounds, is rife; as are acts of physical, economic, political and domestic violence in the private and public sphere,” Alsalem said in a statement.

“Moreover, I am equally distraught by the credible and multiple reports I received of profoundly discriminatory and dehumanising treatment endured by non-Libyan women and children, including girls, as well as horrific levels of torture, sexual violence, abduction for ransom, detention, trafficking in persons, forced labour and unlawful killings.”

Alsalem said political deadlock, insecurity, instability, governance and rule of law challenges and problematic legal frameworks that are not in line with Libya’s international human rights obligations were among reasons for the appalling situation. These, in addition to the proliferation of armed groups and weapons driving complex and cross-border criminal enterprises, have strengthened the rampant impunity that reigns for crimes committed.

“Whilst much remains to be done on the humanitarian and human rights front and in support of women and children, including girls, the increasing restrictions imposed on the space and work of civil society and international organisations working on the ground is very concerning,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur said that while encouraged by the invitation from the Government of National Unity to visit the country, she regrets obstacles she encountered, including delays in entering the country, inability to visit prisons and detention centres where women and girls are being held, as well as being barred from leaving the airport in Benghazi to pursue meetings and visits she had planned in the east of the country.

Alsalem noted some key opportunities that could strengthen the prevention and response mechanisms on violence against women and children, including girls, such as: ensuring important legislative reforms, including through the adoption of the 2021 Draft Law on violence against women; ending impunity; bolstering support for relevant governmental institutions and other organizations dealing with women and children to ensure they are fully operational; supporting opportunities for economic empowerment and political participation of women; as well placing the issue of protection, particularly for women and girls, high on the agenda in all dealings with the authorities.

It is also imperative to support the efforts being made by public servants and human rights defenders who, against all odds, are tirelessly working towards ensuring the protection of women and girls in Libyan society.

“Furthermore, the pushback of migrants and refugees at sea to Libya where their lives are at risk must be stopped. Opportunities for access to fair asylum procedures, evacuation opportunities, and voluntary returns to their countries must be scaled up,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Ms. Reem Alsalem (Jordan) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2021, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. She is an independent consultant on gender issues, the rights of refugees and migrants, transitional justice and humanitarian response. She holds a Masters in International Relations from the American University in Cairo, Egypt (2001) and a Masters in Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (2003).

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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