GENEVA, Switzerland, April 10, 2018/ — Armed groups in Libya, including those affiliated with the State, hold thousands of people in prolonged arbitrary and unlawful detention, and submit them to torture and other human rights violations and abuses, according to a UN report published on Tuesday.
“Men, women and children across Libya are arbitrarily detained or unlawfully deprived of their liberty based on their tribal or family links and perceived political affiliations,” the report by the UN Human Rights Office says. “Victims have little or no recourse to judicial remedy or reparations, while members of armed groups enjoy total impunity.”
“This report lays bare not only the appalling abuses and violations experienced by Libyans deprived of their liberty, but the sheer horror and arbitrariness of such detentions, both for the victims and their families,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “These violations and abuses need to stop – and those responsible for such crimes should be held fully to account.”
Since renewed hostilities broke out in 2014, armed groups on all sides have rounded up suspected opponents, critics, activists, medical professionals, journalists and politicians, the report says. Hostage-taking for prisoner exchanges or ransom is also common. Those detained arbitrarily or unlawfully also include people held in relation to the 2011 armed conflict – many without charge, trial or sentence for over six years.
The report, published in cooperation with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), summarizes the main human rights concerns regarding detention in Libya since the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) on 17 December 2015 until 1 January 2018. The implementation of provisions in the LPA to address the situation of people detained arbitrarily for prolonged periods of time has stalled, it notes.
“Rather than reining in armed groups and integrating their members under State command and control structures, successive Libyan governments have increasingly relied on them for law enforcement, including arrests and detention; paid them salaries; and provided them with equipment and uniforms,” the report says. As a result, their power has grown unchecked and they have remained free of effective government oversight.
Some 6,500 people were estimated to be held in official prisons overseen by the Judicial Police of the Ministry of Justice, as of October 2017. There are no available statistics for facilities nominally under the Ministries of Interior and Defence, nor for those run directly by armed groups.
“These facilities are notorious for endemic torture and other human rights violations or abuses,” the report says. For example, the detention facility at Mitiga airbase in Tripoli holds an estimated 2,600 men, women and children, most without access to judicial authorities. In Kuweifiya prison, the largest detention facility in eastern Libya, some 1,800 people are believed to be held.
Armed groups routinely deny people any contact with the outside world when they are first detained. “Distraught families search for their detained family members, travel to known detention facilities, plead for the help of acquaintances with connections to armed groups, security or intelligence bodies, and exchange information with other families of detainees or missing persons,” the report highlights.
There have also been consistent allegations of deaths in custody. The bodies of hundreds of individuals taken and held by armed groups have been uncovered in streets, hospitals, and rubbish dumps, many with bound limbs and marks of torture and gunshot wounds.
“The widespread prolonged arbitrary and unlawful detention and endemic human rights abuses in custody in Libya require urgent action by the Libyan authorities, with support from the international community,” the report says. Such action needs to provide redress to victims and their families, and to prevent the repetition of such crimes.
“As a first step, the State and non-State actors that effectively control territory and exercise government-like functions must release those detained arbitrarily or otherwise unlawfully deprived of their liberty. All those lawfully detained must be transferred to official prisons under effective and exclusive State control,” it says.
The report calls on the authorities to publicly and unequivocally condemn torture, ill-treatment and summary executions of those detained, and ensure accountability for such crimes.
“Failure to act will not only inflict additional suffering on thousands of detainees and their families and lead to further loss of life. It will also be detrimental to any stabilization, peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts,” it concludes.