21 March 2018
The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with Andrew Gilmour, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, on the human rights situation in Libya under its technical assistance and capacity building agenda item.
Mr. Gilmour regretted that the situation in Libya had not improved. The proliferation of armed groups throughout Libya had led to a situation in which human rights violations and abuses remained acute and widespread. Places of detention remained a huge concern, with those run by armed groups, including with links to ministries, having the worst records. Detainees were held often arbitrarily, incommunicado, subjected to torture and denied adequate medical treatment. Another concern was the approximately 200 Tawergha families, blocked by armed groups, who had remained displaced en route to Tawergha in harsh winter conditions without the most basic services. Mr. Gilmour called on all actors to protect civilians and to resolve the current deadlock, and to ensure that a process was swiftly put in place to guarantee the right to return, allowing demining to begin, rebuilding and delivering basic services to Tawergha. Finally, Mr. Gilmour stressed that reports of open slave markets where captured migrants were bought and sold were absolutely intolerable. There was a need for the broader engagement of Member States on human rights issues in Libya, including when working with the security forces there.
Libya, speaking as the concerned country, said it had reviewed the report and stressed that some information, especially regarding shelters for illegal migrants, was inaccurate. Despite its limited resources, Libya was assisting migrants. Libyan authorities did not have the capacity to combat organized crime and terrorism. The report failed to mention Government efforts to achieve national reconciliation and failed to acknowledge the work of the working group on migration. Additionally, the report failed to mention efforts to unify the military in the country and Libya called on the United Nations to contribute to that goal. The situation in Libya necessitated escalated efforts by the international community to assist the Government of National Unity. Libya called on the international community to deploy all efforts to grant the country access to frozen funds in order to implement development programmes.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed serious concern about the deteriorating situation which had become fertile ground for criminal, armed and terrorist groups, which engaged in drug and arms trafficking, as well as trafficking of migrants, and which committed torture, forced labour, and extrajudicial and arbitrary detention. While some speakers supported the efforts of the Libyan Government and central and local institutions to promote national reconciliation, others blamed the inability of the justice system to function effectively which had led to widespread impunity, particularly for violations and abuses perpetrated by armed groups. They were highly concerned that despite efforts, Government violations of human rights and international humanitarian law were still being committed. All speakers condemned Daesh and other terrorist and armed groups engaged in trafficking, and reiterated the importance of supporting the Government in facing illegal migration and terrorism. They urged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide capacity building and technical assistance in accordance with the needs of the country.
Speaking were European Union, Jordan, on behalf of the Arab Group, Russian Federation, Egypt, Estonia, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Bahrain, China, Qatar, Greece, Netherlands, Algeria, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Jordan, Germany, Sovereign Order of Malta, United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Yemen. United Nations Children’s Fund also spoke.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Human Rights Watch, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, United Nations Watch, Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme, International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), (in a joint statement with International-Lawyers.Org), and United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation.
The Council will continue its session at noon today, when it will hold an interactive dialogue with the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in Ukraine under its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building.
The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Libya, including on the effectiveness of technical assistance and capacity-building measures received by the Government of Libya (A/HRC/37/46)
Presentation by the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
ANDREW GILMOUR, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, regretted that the situation in Libya had not improved. The proliferation of armed groups throughout Libya had led to a situation in which human rights violations and abuses remained acute and widespread. Armed groups continued to be the main perpetrators of grave human rights violations, and they acted with almost complete impunity for even the most serious of crimes. Extrajudicial and unlawful killings were rampant. In what had become an increasing pattern in and around Benghazi over the past two years, more bodies with signs of torture and hands bound were being found in the streets. The west of the country had not been spared either. Places of detention remained a huge concern, with those run by armed groups, including with links to ministries, having the worst records. Detainees were held often arbitrarily, incommunicado, subjected to torture and denied adequate medical treatment. It would be good if the Government declared its public and unequivocal condemnation of torture, ill-treatment and summary executions and its determination to ensure accountability for such crimes. Derna remained surrounded by forces allied to the Libyan National Army who restricted the movement of civilians and entry for essential goods and humanitarian assistance into the city. Those forces had arbitrarily detained and were continuing to hold, sometimes incommunicado, Derna residents, including medical professionals, when they tried to leave or enter the city.
Turning to the issue of the returns of Tawerghans, Mr. Gilmour noted that they were blocked by armed groups, adding that around 200 Tawergha families had remained displaced on route to Tawergha in harsh winter conditions without the most basic services. Mr. Gilmour called on all actors to protect civilians and to resolve the current deadlock, to ensure a process was swiftly put in place to guarantee the right to return, allowing demining to begin, rebuilding and delivering basic services to Tawergha. Mr. Gilmour stressed that reports of open slave markets where captured migrants were bought and sold were absolutely intolerable. Such reports were part of a widespread pattern of serious human rights violations against migrants in Libya. Since November 2017, a continuation of a pattern of torture, including by the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration officials, had been noted. Male detainees were subjected to forced labour, women to strip and intrusive cavity search by male staff, and all faced extortion. Relevant States parties should take all necessary legal, political and diplomatic measures to ensure that cooperation with Libya was consistent with the absolute prohibition of torture. Mr. Gilmour reiterated the High Commissioner’s call to the European Union to adopt a human rights due diligence approach to their support to the Libyan authorities. He further urged all Member States to prioritize addressing impunity, including through active support for the International Criminal Court, and other accountability mechanisms that complemented it. There was a need for broader engagement of Member States on human rights issues in Libya, including when working with security forces there.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Libya, speaking as the concerned country, said it had reviewed the report and stressed that some information, especially regarding shelters for illegal migrants, was inaccurate. Despite its limited resources, Libya was assisting migrants. Libyan authorities did not have the capacity to combat organized crime and terrorism. The report failed to mention Government efforts to achieve national reconciliation and failed to acknowledge the work of the working group on migration. Libya reaffirmed calls for cooperation with the international community in order to establish projects in countries where migrants originated. Additionally, the report failed to mention efforts to unify the military in the country and Libya called on the United Nations to contribute to that goal. The situation in Libya necessitated that the international community escalate efforts to assist the Government of National Unity. Libya called on the international community to deploy all efforts to grant the country access to frozen funds in order to implement development programmes.
European Union supported the efforts of the Libyan institutions, including local communities, to promote national reconciliation and welcomed the effective participation of Libyan women in the political process. Despite the valuable commitment of the Government, violations or abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law were still being committed. Jordan, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said Daesh and other terrorist groups were engaging in trafficking in Libya, and in this respect it was important to support the Government so that it could face the effects of illegal migration as a country of transit. The Arab Group supported the political agreement and thanked the Arab League and the European Union for efforts made to support the Government of National Accord. United Nations Children’s Fund said the plight of children in Libya remained very severe. Some 36,000 migrant children were in need of assistance, of which more than 14,000 were unaccompanied. In 2017 alone, nearly 15,000 unaccompanied children had reached Italy by sea, traveling across the perilous Central Mediterranean route, while an estimated 500 of these had tried to make the trip and many had suffered abuse, exploitation, enslavement and detention.
Russian Federation said despite the attempt to establish a dialogue, the prospect of a settlement was not on the horizon due to the lack of cooperation by the two competing centres of power. The chaos had become fertile ground for armed and terrorist groups, and the entire situation was the result of action by the coalition under the aegis of NATO in 2011. Egypt urged Libya to pursue activities against Daesh and other armed terrorist groups. There were criminal and other groups engaged in drug running and arms trafficking, as well as networks involved in illegal migration. Estonia said the report documented human rights violations and abuses committed against women, children and migrants. The inability of the justice system to function effectively had led to widespread impunity, particularly for violations and abuses perpetrated by armed groups.
Senegal welcomed Libyan efforts to restore stability. The perilous situation of civilians should galvanize the international community to act. Armed groups were also taking a toll on the greater Sahel region. Tunisia reiterated its full support for the Libyan Government and hoped institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights would be strengthened. Tunisia would continue to assist Libya and called on the international community to honor its obligations. Spain said attacks by armed groups against civilians and civilian infrastructure were dismaying. Hostilities and human rights violations against civilians must stop immediately and mechanisms to prevent impunity must be established.
Saudi Arabia reiterated the importance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in providing technical assistance and capacity building in Libya. Saudi Arabia strongly condemned attacks by extremists groups. Czechia supported United Nations efforts to assist all Libyan stakeholders in a national reconciliation process. The report provided disturbing information regarding the suffering of civilians in Libya. The situation of women and children was particularly alarming. United States encouraged all Libyan parties to work towards the common goal of a peaceful, united country. The United States stressed the importance of protecting civilians during national stabilization efforts.
Italy reaffirmed its full support to the Libyan authorities to bring the country out of the long political transition as well as to the work of United Nations Support Mission in Libya. As the first western country which had reopened its embassy in Tripoli, Italy had been working closely with Libyan authorities to improve migrants’ living conditions. Bahrain said that despite efforts deployed by the Government of National Accord to build a modern state, many challenges and threats remained pertaining to migrants, securing borders and fighting transnational organized crime. Libya was a hub for attracting migrants which was a further aggravating crisis in the country and more resources had to be allocated by the Office of the High Commissioner to confront this. China said that Libya’s future had to be decided by its own people and the international community had to respect that choice and its national sovereignty. The international community was urged to step up its efforts towards combatting terrorism.
Qatar was concerned about the continuous fighting between Libyan factions, violations of human rights, besieging of towns, and impunity, and invited all parties to adhere to the Skhirat agreement. The situation of migrants was concerning and the Government was urged to hold perpetrators accountable. Greece strongly supported the implementation of the Action Plan presented by the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General Salamé aimed at advancing the Libyan-owned political process. The Skhirat agreement was the only viable framework to end the Libyan political crisis. Netherlands welcomed the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in Libya and called for full cooperation. An important role had to be played by the Office of the High Commissioner, and Special Rapporteurs in relevant fields such as human rights defenders, migrants, human trafficking had to accept the standing invitation from the Libyan authorities to visit Libya as well.
Algeria supported Libya’s efforts to counter terrorists and armed groups and smugglers, and called upon the international community to help the country to face these challenges, and to support it in accordance with the principle of non-interference. The main objective was to reach a consensus-based political solution that would preserve Libya’s integrity and sovereignty and to rule out any military solution. Sudan supported Libya’s efforts to combat illegal migration and terrorism which undermined the stability in the country. It welcomed the accession of Libya to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and invited the Office of the High Commissioner to provide capacity building and technical assistance in accordance with the needs of the country. Burkina Faso said it was imperative to bring an end to the free circulation of weapons and to the activities of armed groups which were financed by human trafficking. It was highly concerned about the insecurity, trafficking and terrorism in Libya, the scale of which required an urgent and collaborative effort to deal with this asymmetrical war.
Nigeria said the inhuman treatment and enslavement of migrants in Libya, as well as the activities of traffickers were repugnant and condemnable. It was important that perpetrators of these heinous crimes were brought to justice. Nigeria had been engaging with Libyan authorities with a view to ensuring that Nigerian migrants and others were duly respected, secured and treated with dignity. United Kingdom welcomed Libya’s continued cooperation with the Human Rights Council and was grateful for the High Commissioner’s latest joint report with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya. This report made it clear that political divisions and the continued impunity enjoyed by armed groups in Libya had created an environment of intimidation and fear. Ireland expressed its deep concern at the grave and ongoing human rights violations in Libya which resulted from a culture of impunity, due in part to the weakness of Government institutions and a vacuum of State authority. It remained gravely concerned about the inhumane conditions in which thousands of migrants were being detained, and especially at reports of torture and violence, including sexual and gender-based violence being perpetrated against migrants.
Jordan emphasized the need to support Libya in defending its sovereignty and building strong national institutions. Jordan supported the Government of National Accord. The success of Libyan institutions would foster peace and security. Germany said it was extremely worried about the situation in Libya, adding that it was committed to assisting Libya as it worked to restore human rights and accountability. Germany was particularly concerned about the appalling situation of migrants. Sovereign Order of Malta voiced concern over the plight of civilians and migrants in Libya. The United Nations must continue supporting Libya in efforts to strengthen the judicial system to ensure that perpetrators of crimes were held accountable.
United Arab Emirates said that Libya was facing illegal migration problems that were burdening the Government. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights must provide increased assistance to the country in order to address the migration crisis. Morocco welcomed the positive cooperation of Libya with the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Libya was also open to work constructively with United Nations Special Procedures. Yemen took note of the obstacles faced by Libya in the field of human rights. Libya required increased support and assistance to shoulder its human rights responsibilities. Financial and technical assistance was needed to combat organized crime.
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom welcomed the efforts to include a gendered dimension in the report, especially taking into account the targeting of women and girls, attacks against female activists, and abuses suffered by women migrants. Recommendations from the report were echoed, and an appeal was launched to cease all hostilities and for the international community to include women in disarmament activities. Human Rights Watch said that over 160,000 people remained internally displaced because of the conflict and thousands who had left their homes during fighting in Benghazi had been unable to return, due to reprisal crimes carried out by forces affiliated with the Libyan National Army. Given that the Council members had consistently fallen short of taking measures within their mandate to curb the raging impunity, such as establishing the mandate of an independent expert, how could the Council justify the lack of a reporting mechanism? Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said that Libya had become a living hell for thousands of migrants fleeing across the Mediterranean and locked in detention centres.
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies stressed that the High Commissioner had noted near-complete lawlessness throughout Libya, with almost total impunity for the most serious crimes. Impunity in Libya had also emboldened armed extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda, the Salafists and ISIS and it was of great concern that the current resolution put before the Council by the African Group had failed to dedicate resources to address serious human rights violations or to create an international investigative mechanism. United Nations Watch asked whether the Office of the High Commissioner could have acted differently over the past years, during all crimes committed by Colonel Gadhafi? Did the Council regret that Jean Ziegler, the longest serving expert at the United Nations, had created the Gadhafi prize? Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme was concerned over the prolonged fragmentation of conflict and interest groups, including build-up of armed forces in Sabha. Given Libya’s fragmentation, particularly the growing number of militias and jihadist groups, how could progress be made regarding the Libyan Political Agreement’s aim of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of members of armed groups?
International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), in a joint statement with International-Lawyers.Org, said the weak system in Libya was allowing the exploitation of basic human rights. Although the transitional justice system was being implemented, the effect of these efforts was debatable. United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation said despite mechanisms in place to overcome the crisis, people were living in extremely difficult situations, especially because they were prevented from going back to their villages. It called on the international community to bring an end to the suffering brought onto these children and to find proper resources to ensure the return of these families.
ANDREW GILMOUR, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said his Office recognized that Libya could not possibly be expected to deal with the migrant situation alone and needed international assistance. The report had put forth recommendations in this regard. He welcomed information that would refute anything in the report that was deemed incorrect, and said the Office stood ready to enhance its support and engage with the Government of Libya on technical assistance. In this regard, steps could be taken to establish or strengthen key mechanisms. His Office had called upon the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen human rights brigades. The establishment of oversight and accountability mechanisms was critical, and impartial and effective investigations had to be carried out. Armed groups should close detention centres as agreed in the political agreement, and hand over detainees. This, and accountability for all perpetrators, was a priority.
Regarding migrants, the alleged slave auction incident was shocking, but must not be treated in exclusion, as it was part of a large pattern. He urged those groups on the ground to stop all detention of migrants. He also urged the European Union and Member States to fully respect the rights of migrants – by urging them to return, they were putting them into a situation of high likelihood of torture and ill-treatment. Regarding addressing gaps in assistance to migrants and refugees, assistance in the reform of the criminal justice system was essential. Assistance to the due diligence system was also needed, however, migrants and detainees held in detention should not be the only focus. Libyans were also being subjected to this. Torture, forced labour, extrajudicial and arbitrary detention should be the priorities. Mr. Gilmore reiterated other speakers’ calls for Libya to issue a standing invitation for Special Procedures.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya stood ready to support the Constitution-Drafting Assembly, which benefited from the participation of all sections of the society, including women. He hoped that the final draft would represent a vision of Libya built on human rights and the rule of law. He agreed with those who raised the failure of previous human rights mechanisms for not speaking out regarding abuses under the Gadhafi regime. He was sure that the current leadership of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would not have hesitated to speak out. He welcomed and repeated the call for an end to impunity. The situation of vulnerable groups, including women detainees, was of particular concern, and his Office would continue to work on this with the Government of Libya and all other States.
Libya, speaking as the concerned country, expressed profound gratitude to the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights. There was no slavery in Libya; there had been trafficking in human beings by organizations and to counter that problem, Libya required technical assistance since it could not cope with such problems on its own.
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