The UN human rights chief warned yesterday that serious violations were “endemic” in many detention centres in Libya but revealed he was “optimistic” that there was room for improvement.
The UN chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, became the first UN rights chief to make an official visit to Libya when he made a surprise visit to the capital Tripoli this week where he met with Libyan officials including Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj and the justice and interior ministers to address abuses that have become prevalent in the country.
Hussein warned that “the human rights situation in Libya continues to be marked by widespread abuses and violations perpetrated by all sides to the conflict with complete impunity”.
Since the uprising in 2011 Libya has plunged into chaos with fighting defining the day-to-day lives of millions of Libyans.
The fighting between Libya’s armed factions scrambling to fill the power vacuum has caused chaos in the country and has given rise to mass cases of abuse. Few investigations have been carried out, however, as rival authorities fight for legitimacy in the country.
To add to the precarious situation Libya has become the main base for African migrants to travel from as they journey to Europe across the Mediterranean in boats operated by smugglers. Those who are unable to secure transport from Libya have often been detained in detention centres and made to endure horrific conditions.
During his one-day visit, which was kept secret due to security issues, Al-Hussein met with civil society and women’s rights groups, visited one of the country’s main prisons and a camp for displaced people.
“Thousands of people are held arbitrarily in detention centres across the country, some since the 2011 armed conflict, many subjected to torture and ill-treatment,” he said.
Armed groups unlawfully kill and hold hostage civilians and combatants. Civilian men, women and children are killed and injured every week by the indiscriminate use of weapons.
Hussein highlighted the “horrific” reports emerging from a number of detention centres including the Mitigia detention centre where he warned the situation needed “to be addressed urgently, as do other facilities where abuses are endemic”.
“The large-scale near-collapse in the justice system, the power and influence of armed groups, and the many challenges faced by the government are real,” he continued.
Al-Hussein went on to insist that there was still much the government could do to improve the situation and called on rival factions to “halt the practice of arbitrary detention, and to ensure accountability for the abuses perpetrated against migrants in detention centres”.
The human rights challenges in Libya are massive, but they are not insurmountable.
Though he said he was optimistic, it was apparent that he was pressing for more than promises. He explained that though very short his visit was important. “It was intended to stimulate, and hopefully sustain, not just a productive dialogue but also concrete actions which could ultimately lead to significant improvements in the lives of the people of Libya.”
Al-Hussein called on the UN-backed government in Tripoli to take control of all detention centres and ensure the accountability of staff and called on human rights monitors to be given access to wherever suspects or convicted prisoners were being held.