UN decries ‘sheer horror’ suffered by thousands detained in Libya
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UN decries ‘sheer horror’ suffered by thousands detained in Libya

Libya descended into chaos following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with dozens of armed factions filling the power vacuum — each rounding up suspected opponents.

world Updated: Apr 10, 2018 16:31 IST
Agence France-Presse, Geneva
United Nations,Libya,UNHCR
Libyan women displaced due to conflict at an UNHCR camp.(Reuters)

Untold thousands of men, women and children are being held in horrific conditions in Libya by armed groups who subject them to torture and other abuses, a United Nations report said on Tuesday.

Fresh findings from the UN rights office and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) found that Libya was plagued by “widespread, prolonged arbitrary and unlawful detention and endemic human rights abuses in custody”.

Libya descended into chaos following the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with dozens of armed factions filling the power vacuum.

Since renewed hostilities broke out in 2014, armed groups on all sides have rounded up suspected opponents, critics, activists, medical professionals, journalists and politicians, Tuesday’s report said.

“The 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,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement. “These violations and abuses need to stop, and those responsible for such crimes should be held fully to account.”

The report, however, did not look at the widespread abusive detention of migrants in lawless Libya, which has long been a major transit hub for people from Africa and elsewhere trying to reach Europe.

Aid workers check up on illegal migrants at a naval base in Tripoli after they were rescued off Libya's coast. (AFP/File Photo)

Untold torture

According to the report, an estimated 6,500 people were languishing in official prisons overseen by Libya’s Judicial Police, under the justice ministry, as of last October.

But it stressed there were no available statistics for facilities that fall under the ministries of interior and defence, nor for those run directly by armed groups.

Such facilities “are notorious for endemic torture and other human rights violations or abuses“, the report said.

It detailed how armed groups routinely hold people incommunicado and systematically subject them to torture, including beatings with metal bars, flogging on the soles of the feet, burning with cigarettes and use of electric shock.

Women detainees are at high risk of sexual abuse, the report warned, pointing out that “in some facilities, women detainees are forced to strip and subjected to invasive cavity searches by male guards or under the gaze of male officials”.

It also pointed to allegations of deaths in custody, with the bodies of hundreds of people taken and held by armed groups found on the streets, in hospitals and rubbish dumps, many bearing signs of torture or gunshot wounds.

The report called for the immediate release of all those detained arbitrarily in Libya, and urged authorities to ensure that all of those lawfully detained be transferred to official prisons.

It also called on authorities to unequivocally condemn torture, ill-treatment and summary executions, and to ensure that any perpetrators of such crimes be held accountable.

First Published: Apr 10, 2018 16:12 IST