Address by Ms. Kate Gilmore
United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 27 September 2016
Salle XX, Palais des Nations
Mr. President, Excellencies, colleagues and friends,
I am pleased to provide this oral update on behalf of the High Commissioner, and I warmly welcome the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UN Support Mission In Libya, Mr. Kobler.
As you may recall, in March, OHCHR issued a report on the situation in Libya pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 28/30. We are grateful for the support given to that investigation by UNSMIL.
The investigation report described how all parties were committing widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and abuses of human rights, with impunity.
Six months on, the situation has not improved. Warring factions continue to show little regard for civilians –failing to take steps needed to avoid or minimise civilian casualties and protect civilian objects from damage.
In residential areas across Libya, heavy weaponry has been deployed without ensuring sufficient precautions and this is true of all parties.
Armed groups act with complete impunity, continuing to abduct, torture and kill civilians on the basis of their perceived or actual family links, origin or political affiliation. In July, for example, 14 bodies were discovered dumped at a Benghazi rubbish tip. It was clear that the victims, some of whom had been abducted by armed groups earlier in the month, had been tortured and then killed. In June, 12 prisoners were released from Tripoli’s Al-Ruwaimi prison, in compliance with a court order. But, just 24 hours later, their families confronted the grim task of identifying their bodies. The 12 had been beaten, shot and killed. Those responsible remain unidentified in both instances.
Human rights defenders and media professionals have also faced abductions and attacks. Thanks to repeated intimidation and attack against their staff, the National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights in Tripoli remains effectively shut down. In March, prominent human rights advocate Abdul Basit Abu-Dahab, was killed in Darna when a bomb placed in his vehicle exploded. Many other human rights defenders have fled the country, curtailed their activities or gone into hiding.
Civilian objects are not spared. In 2016, homes have been attacked, looted and destroyed, including in Benghazi, Zawiya and most recently in Misallata. From May to July, the Benghazi Medical Centre was shelled on four separate occasions. In June, a car bomb exploded at the entrance of the Al-Jala’ Hospital killing five people, and injuring 13 others, including two children.
Meanwhile, thousands of people are held arbitrarily in detention centres under the official oversight of the Ministries of Justice, Defence, and Interior, as well as in makeshift facilities controlled by armed groups. Many have been held since 2011 without any legal basis or proper examination of their cases despite commitments made by successive governments. Reports of enforced disappearances persist and conditions of detention are dire. In Mitiga Detention facility, for example, overcrowding is severe. Women are guarded by males. Children are held with adults. Since March, two deaths, allegedly as a result of torture, were recorded in the facility.
Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are arbitrarily detained as a matter of course, often in inhumane conditions, without sufficient ventilation, light, or space. On one visit to a detention centre, UNSMIL staff observed migrants held in storage rooms without sufficient space even to lie down.
Numerous reports indicate patterns of abuse perpetrated against migrants, such as summary killings, torture and other ill-treatment, sexual abuse, extortion, and forced labour. Alleged perpetrators include Libyan officials, such as officers of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration, members of the armed groups that control official and unofficial detention facilities, as well as smugglers and other criminals.
Whilst the perpetrators do vary, the impunity does not. For example, no one has been held responsible for the killing of four migrants, and the wounding of 20 others, during an escape attempt at the Al-Nasr detention facility in al-Zawiya, or for the killing of 13 detained migrants in Bani Walid, in April.
Accounts of abuses do not stop at the detention centres. Migrants seeking to leave Libya by boat have recounted abuses against them during and after interception by vessels allegedly belonging to the Libyan Coast Guard. Migrants were beaten with sticks or gun butts, robbed of personal belongings and taken with no legal process to detention centres. One account described how a person presumed to be the pilot of a boat was shot in the neck and killed upon disembarkation.
We welcome the search and rescue operation – and the saving of lives - carried out by the Libyan authorities, the European Union and non-governmental organisations in the Mediterranean Sea. Nonetheless, the patterns of abuse against migrants in Libya, draws us to reiterate our call to the Government of Libya and the European Union to ensure that their migration related cooperation fully respects human rights and does not effectively facilitate arbitrary detention in centres where abuses are rampant.
Last month, representatives of the Misratan community and the internally displaced Tawerghan community signed an agreement that represents a further step towards Tawerghans being able to return to their homes. We commend both sides for their efforts, and we wish to take the opportunity to acknowledge the critical mediation role played by UNSMIL human rights component in this regard. We will hear more about this important landmark from SRSG Kobler.
Earlier in the year, the Government of National Accord took office, and we commend their subsequent public statements of commitment to re-establishing the rule of law in the country. However, it is clear that the Government faces significant challenges. A Minister of Justice was designated but never took office and is now no longer in government. Progress towards establishing the transitional justice mechanisms provided for in Libyan law has not advanced. The justice system remains in a state of near-paralysis in many parts of the country. Prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officials have been assaulted, killed, and abducted. To our knowledge, no members of armed groups or officials serving State institutions have been prosecuted for human rights abuses.
Members of armed groups are still paid by State institutions and, in some cases, carry out custodial or law enforcement functions. These groups operate with significant autonomy and exert effective control over territorial areas and official facilities. This feeds the prevailing impunity and must be addressed as a priority.
The justice system needs protection and support. Such support should go hand in hand with a demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programme, and the establishment of a unified armed force and effective law enforcement agencies - underpinned by a fair and transparent vetting process to ensure those responsible for gross violations cannot serve in an official capacity.
Those with effective control on the ground must stop and refrain from acts in breach of international human rights and humanitarian law. We call upon them to ensure unimpeded and safe access for United Nations and other monitors to all places of detention. Those involved in serious abuses and violations are criminally liable, including before the International Criminal Court which is investigating the situation in Libya. The Prosecutor of the Court has repeatedly called for more resources in this regard, and we reiterate our call to the international community to increase support to the Court accordingly.
The human rights component of UNSMIL, with the support of OHCHR, continues to monitor, publically report and intervene on the human rights situation in Libya. The investigation by OHCHR requested by this Council last year contributed to this effort. However the situation in Libya is distressing with little hope of resolution in immediate sight. Perpetrators – not without foundation - believe there are no consequences for their actions. Victims believe for good reason that there are few prospects for justice. All Libyans suffer in this current impunity scenario.
We believe this Council has a critical role to play in complementing and strengthening efforts towards ensuring accountability. We therefore conclude this briefing by reiterating the recommendation that we made earlier this year - that this Council consider the establishment of a special procedures mandate of an independent expert on Libya, to report on the situation of human rights and on progress made towards accountability.