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The human rights situation in Libya has remained of serious concern during the first half of 2015. While political parties failed to resolve their differences, ongoing conflict between armed groups continued to severely impact the civilian population, many of whom have been targeted or displaced due to political, tribal and regional divides. Public health care has been badly strained by the violence, and some hospitals, such as in Benghazi, have been damaged in the fighting and are currently not open. Moreover, the unstable security situation has allowed extremist groups to operate and commit atrocities in Libya with impunity, and allowed people smugglers to cause a humanitarian crisis by exploiting migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean. Reports by the UN, human rights NGOs and human rights defenders (HRDs) have highlighted the worsening human rights and humanitarian situations caused by the continuing conflict, and the suffering of the civilian population, civil society and HRDs.
On 25 March, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published their joint report “Human Rights Defenders Under Attack”. The UN documented that armed groups on all sides of the conflict have disregarded civilians and committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and violations and abuses of human rights, including abductions, extrajudicial executions, unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment. Armed groups have targeted HRDs seeking to document and denounce such violations and abuses. Moderates who have supported the UN-facilitated efforts for a ceasefire and political dialogue have also been targeted by armed groups. Notable cases documented by UN/OHCHR included, but were not limited to, the following: on 13 and 14 February 2015 respectively, Dr. Ali Osta, and Dr. Hadi Ben Taleb of the Libyan Human Rights Commission were abducted by the Shahid Hamza armed group in central Tripoli - both were later released; in February, Entissar al-Hassaeri, a female civil society activist, was killed in Tripoli together with her aunt, Amal Mazdawi. UNSMIL/OHCHR noted that, in some cases, the families of HRDs have also been attacked, abducted or threatened.
Extremist groups, including those affiliated to ISIL, have increased their foothold in Libya and have claimed control over the coastal towns of Dernah and Sirte. A series of savage attacks by extremists took place during the reporting period. In January at least 9 people, including 5 foreign nationals, were killed in a terrorist attack on an international hotel in Tripoli. In February, ISIL-affiliated terrorists claimed responsibility for the abduction and beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, prompting retaliatory air strikes on Dernah by Egypt. In February, nine were killed in an attack at Mabruk oilfield southeast of Sirte, and three oil workers were kidnapped. On 6 March, terrorists killed eight oil workers and kidnapped nine workers at Al Ghani oilfield, south east of Tripoli. Car bomb attacks in public areas in Tripoli, Tobruk and Benghazi caused many casualties. In April 2015, two groups of Ethiopian Christians were executed by ISIL in Libya in two locations.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported that civilians were increasingly bearing the brunt of reprisal attacks as violence in Libya escalated. UNSMIL/OHCHR’s report documented the dangers faced by HRDs in Derna, dominated by extremist armed groups, including Ansar al Sharia, Abu Salim Martyrs, and groups claiming allegiance to ISIL. The UN, NGOs, and the media reported summary executions by a Sharia “court” in Dernah, and killings of security officials and current and former civil servants including judges, HRDs, media workers, and a female member of the General National Congress.
In the South, fighting between Tuareg and Tebu armed groups continued. Armed militias, mostly from Misrata, continued to prevent about 40,000 residents of Tawergha, Tomina, and Karareem from returning to their homes as a form of collective punishment for crimes allegedly committed by some Tawergha residents during the 2011 revolution. Those displaced continued to seek safety and shelter in makeshift camps and private housing in many areas, but they remained subject to attack, harassment, and arbitrary detention by the militias. Libyan authorities and militia commanders failed to end the attacks or hold those responsible to account.
The condition of prisons and treatment of prisoners under the jurisdiction of the different sides in the conflict remained a serious concern throughout this period. HRDs continued to report arbitrary detentions, mistreatment, torture and extrajudicial killings in detention centres on all sides.
Libya was discussed at the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. FCO Minister for Human Rights, Baroness Anelay, highlighted the UK’s ongoing concerns about human rights abuses and violations, and the urgent need for a political resolution in Libya in her closing statement.
It is in the context of continuing conflict and widespread suffering that we co-sponsored an African Group resolution at the HRC in Geneva, adopted with overwhelming support on 27 March. The resolution expressed support for the UN-led talks, and concern at the political and security crisis; condemned all violations and abuses, including by ISIL; and called for accountability. It urged the Libyan government to take action to improve human rights protection in Libya. The text also created an OHCHR mission to investigate violations and abuses with a view to ensuring accountability, reporting at the 31st session in March 2016. It requested an oral update in September with the participation of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General. The OHCHR investigation mission is deploying now and we hope it will make a concrete contribution towards accountability, as a crucial part of the peace process.
We were pleased with the broadly positive engagement of the Libyan delegation at the Universal Periodic Review at the HRC on 13 May, headed by Hassan Alsghayr, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Many states, including the UK, expressed their concerns about disregard for the rule of law by all parties to the conflict and impunity for violations committed. 100 delegations made recommendations to Libya. Key topics covered included: women’s rights, the death penalty, engagement with the UN peace process, freedom of expression, tackling impunity, and bringing perpetrators to justice. The Libyan delegation will have until the September session of the HRC to decide which recommendations it will accept or reject. The English version of the Libyan UPR report is available on the United Nations’ website.
The UK has consistently called on Libyan political leaders to exercise control over their associated forces to cease fighting and refrain from provocative or retaliatory actions, in order to prevent further escalation of the conflict. We have strongly condemned the continued fighting in Libya, and all other acts of violence. The UK also deplores the savage and cowardly attacks carried out by ISIL and their supporters. There must be no impunity for war crimes and human rights violations committed in Libya during the current instability. The UK continues to support the UN dialogue process, which we see as the best opportunity to bring about the political transition needed to restore peace, stability and respect for human rights in Libya.