Skip to main content

Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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

25 September 2019

42nd session of the Human Rights Council

Address by Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 25 September 2019
Salle XX, Palais des Nations

Mr. President, Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

It’s troubling to recall that in March this year, this Council could look forward to the outcomes the United Nations-led national conference aimed at supporting a Libyan-led transition towards a sustainable, stable, unified, representative and effective governance structure under the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement. But in September?

Change came quickly.  But two weeks after the close of the Council’s  March session, an offensive against Tripoli launched by forces of the Libyan National Army under the command of General Khalifa Haftar brought all attempts to stop the violence and to resume the political process to a standstill that is yet to be overcome successfully.

It is against that backdrop of military stalemate, a deepening humanitarian crisis, unrelieved suffering of people in Libya and grave fears of return to full-scale civil war that this interactive dialogue is held.

[Civilian casualties]

Since that last update to the Council, the conflict has killed at least 218 civilians and injured 289 more. Over 300,000 persons have been internally displaced while another 400,000 persons must go about their daily lives while being within 1-3 km of the clashes in Tripoli.

But the conflict has also spread beyond Tripoli, with increasingly lethal consequences for civilians. It is deeply troubling, that since April, at least 46 attacks have been directed against health workers and health facilities.

Further on 10 August, an attack on an UNSMIL convoy in Benghazi caused the death of three United Nations staff and the injury of 10 civilians, including a four-year old child, and of two United Nations staff members one of whom is a member of the human rights team.

At this juncture, I pause to pay solemn tribute to those colleagues who paid the highest price for their service to the people of Libya and express our deep  solidarity to their families of those lost and to those injured, who are still recovering from their wounds.

Mr. President,

Intentional targeting of civilians and civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks may amount to war crimes. Crimes of such gravity cannot pass unpunished - those responsible must be identified and held accountable.

[HUMAN RIGHTS LAW VIOLATIONS / situation of human rights defenders]

Mr. President,

Serious human rights violations are widespread in Libya including summary executions, abductions, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, as well as gender based violence, including conflict related sexual violence.

Thousands of women, men and children languish in prolonged arbitrary detention, sometimes held incommunicado, and without the opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention. We continue to receive reports of ill-treatment and torture of detainees, including denial of medical care and sexual. In sum, no improvement has been observed since our report on detention was published in April 2018.

We are also concerned by the heightened risks confronting human rights defenders and activists – as is illustrated by the abduction of Member of Parliament Siham Sergewa. Ms. Sergewa was abducted from her home in Benghazi on 17 July, a few hours after having openly criticized the offensive of the Libya National Army in Tripoli on a TV Channel. Her son was beaten and her husband badly injured. The fate of Ms. Sergewa remains unknown.


In March, the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights reported to this Council on the serious human rights violations and abuses suffered by migrants in Libya. That parlous treatment continues and despite escalation of the conflict, still migrants intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard are returned to that country. They are rendered to both official and unofficial detention centers, already overcrowded facilities lacking proper ventilation, appropriate sanitation facilities, lacking adequate food, safe drinking water and health care. There they are subject not only to indefinite arbitrary detention but also to grave human rights violations such as torture and ill treatment, extortion, sexual abuse and exploitation, trafficking and smuggling.

Many migrants today are also exposed to the impacts of the conflict. Today, of the 4,900 migrants detained in inhuman conditions in Libya, 3,500 are held in detention centres located in conflict areas, many of those being located in or next to militia compounds or ammunition stores. One in five those so detained is a child.


On 2 July, it was a second airstrike against a detention centre hosting 600 migrants in Tajoura that killed 53 people and injured 87.  Yet, all parties to the conflict knew full well the coordinates of this detention facility; knew full well that it housed civilians.

We have repeatedly called for the closure of all immigration detention centres in Libya, and for full access to humanitarian protection, collective shelters or other safe places for migrants. We therefore warmly welcomed the decision taken on 1 August by the Interior Ministry to close three detention centres in Misrata, Tajoura and Khoms. This decision needs to be implemented urgently and we encourage the authorities to engage with the contingency plan to progressively close all detention centres in Libya. 

A dignified, human rights based solution for migrants stranded in Libya is not only a moral and collective responsibility of States, it is an obligation under international law. The closure of detention centres in Libya must be accompanied by such solutions – including timely and safe disembarkation of all migrants rescued in the Mediterranean and the provision of shelter and protection outside Libya, in compliance with the principle of “non-refoulement”. Restrictions on life-saving work of humanitarian search and rescue organizations should be lifted.

Mr. President,

Let me conclude by emphasizing that there will no respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Libya without an end to the conflict but there will be no sustained end to the conflict without a commitment by authorities to full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We therefore reiterate our call for an immediate ceasefire and appeal to all States to support the plan proposed by the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Libya to restore peace and stability in the country and end widespread impunity for human rights violations committed in Libya also as a deterrent to prevent further violations.

Our Office strongly supports the establishment of an international body mandated to investigate the full range of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Libya and stands ready to fully play its role in support of its work.

Thank you.