A migrant looks out of a barred door at a detention centre in Gharyan, Libya on October 12, 2017

Libya’s bid for a seat on the UN’s top human rights body should be rejected, as it fails to meet the basic membership criteria. The election of 14 new countries to the Human Rights Council will be held at the UN in New York tomorrow, October 17, 2019. See our full report on all candidates, and press release.

Regrettably, because the African group only has four candidates running for the same amount of available seats, many ambassadors from the 193 UN member states who will vote on Thursday wrongly assume that they are obliged to endorse Libya.

“Electing the Libyan regime as a world judge on human rights is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

Libya’s Human Rights Record

Libya commits serious human rights violations, including:

  • Arbitrary and unlawful killings by armed groups
  • Enforced disappearances
  • Torture by armed groups
  • Arbitrary arrests
  • Harsh and life-threatening prison conditions
  • Unlawful interference with privacy
  • Restrictions on freedom of expression
  • Restrictions on freedom of the press, including violence against journalists
  • Corruption
  • Human trafficking
  • Criminalization of sexual orientation
  • Forced labor

Discussion

Since the fall of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has been politically fractured and beset by violence and instability. It is listed by freedom House among the thirteen “worst of the worst” countries in the world.[1]

Libya is governed by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). However, the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) operates outside the law in parts of the country. Armed groups on either side of the conflict continue to clash.[2] Between April and August 2019, an estimated 1100 people were killed in confrontations in Tripoli, including some 44 migrants who were killed when their detention center was bombed.[3] At least three Libyan military and political officials are currently subject to arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court, including an LNA field commander who was filmed extrajudicially executing ten people.[4]

While the GNA is recognized by the UN, armed militias wield significant power and influence and effectively control a number of critical government institutions and ministries.[5] The GNA itself was not democratically elected, but was selected in 2015 as part of an internationally brokered peace process, and has not been approved by the House of Representatives, the dominant of two rival legislatures.[6] In addition, the mandate of the House of Representatives expired in 2015,[7] but the UN has been unsuccessful in organizing new democratic elections in the country.[8]

Government corruption is pervasive.[9] According to a report by the Audit Bureau, 277 billion Libyan dinars were laundered between from 2012 to 2017, much of it through extortion by armed groups.[10]

The government has insufficient control over national police and other security forces.[11] Both government forces and armed groups commit extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, including kidnapping for ransom. For example, on March 15, 2018, an unknown militia abducted Masoud Erhouma, the government’s chief military prosecutor.[12] On April 20, 2018, local militias abducted Tripoli University professor Salem Mohamed Beitelmal on his way to work.[13]

Government forces and armed groups also engage in arbitrary arrests with impunity. Even government detainees are often held in unofficial facilities controlled by armed groups where torture is routine.[14] Thousands of individuals are currently being held without charges for extended periods and denied due process, including many that have been detained since 2011.[15] In August 2018, 99 defendants were convicted in a mass trial, 45 of whom were sentenced to death.[16] Victims of abuses are unable to seek redress, as the judiciary lacks the capacity to effectively function and is unable to enforce judgments.

Armed groups are responsible for indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, torture of detainees, summary executions, rape, and destruction of property.[17] Government officials, members of civil society, journalists, and religious leaders have all been targeted by armed groups.[18] On November 26, 2018, two prominent government-aligned commanders were killed on arrival at the airport.[19] Terrorist attacks and military confrontations have resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries to civilians in 2019.[20] In April 2019, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said “The escalation of attacks in residential areas, including the use of artillery, rockets and airstrikes is deeply worrying. Thousands of children, women and men’s lives are at risk.”[21]

The government itself places many restrictions on journalists. In addition, due to the conflict, human rights defenders as well as journalists face serious threats. They are subjected to assaults, detention, harassment and disappearances.[22] As a result, objective reporting is extremely dangerous.[23] On January 11, 2018, journalist Mariam al-Tayeb was abducted by an armed group for views expressed on social media.[24] On March 20, 2018, a government-aligned militia detained the director of the Al-Asima Television Channel for a week without giving a reason. On July 30, 2018, another government-aligned militia detained and interrogated four Reuters and AFP journalists for ten hours.[25] On July 31, 2018, journalist Musa Abdul Kareem was found dead.[26]

Libya is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no refugee law or procedure.[27] Migrants are severely mistreated and are subjected to detention in squalid facilities by both government forces and armed groups without any judicial process. Among other things, these migrants suffer from starvation, overcrowding and poor sanitation and they are subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse.[28] In a June 2017 press release the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “deeply concerned about the ghastly conditions in which migrants and refugees are being held in Libya.”[29]

As of September 2018, there were 8,000 to 9,000 migrants and refugees held in some 20 government detention facilities and an unknown number in non-government facilities.[30] In addition, migrants face a high risk of disappearance or death and are routinely exploited by traffickers.[31] While the overall number of migrants transiting to Europe through Libya declined, deaths of those trying to reach Europe through Libya increased dramatically.[32] After the latest boat disaster in August 2019 in which an estimated 40 migrants drowned off the Libyan Coast, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that in 2019 alone more than 850 migrants had died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.[33]

In July 2019, after a migrant detention center was bombed in hostilities, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called for “the closure of all migrant detention centers in Libya” and “for the release of detained migrants and refugees as a matter of urgency.”[34]

Libya’s UN Voting Record

Negative: At the General Assembly, Libya backed human rights abusers when it supported a resolution denying the right to level sanctions against such regimes, and by voting to delay the work of the Special Rapporteur on violence against LGBT individuals. Libya abstained on resolutions that spoke out for victims of human rights violations by Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria. It also abstained on a resolution calling for protection of the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

[1] Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the World 2019, Freedom House (2019), https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat.

[2] Libya: Events of 2018, Human Rights Watch (2019) [Hereinafter “Human Rights Watch Libya 2019”], https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/libya.

[3] Libya: ongoing atrocities reveal the trouble with international military intervention, The Conversation (Aug. 16, 2019), http://theconversation.com/libya-ongoing-atrocities-reveal-the-trouble-with-international-military-intervention-119918; Declan Walsh, Airstrike Kills Dozens of Migrants at Detention Center in Libya, New York Times (July 3, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/world/middleeast/libya-airstrike-migrants-tripoli.html?module=inline.

[4] Human Rights Watch Libya 2019, supra note 63.

[5] Freedom in the World 2019: Libya, Freedom House (2019), https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/libya.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Libya, US Department of State (March 13, 2019) [Hereinafter “State Department Report Libya 2019”], https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/libya/.

[11] Id.

[12] Amnesty International Report 2017/18: Libya, Amnesty International (2018) [Hereinafter “Amnesty International Libya 2018”], https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/libya/report-libya/.

[13] State Department Report Libya 2019, supra note 71.

[14] Id; Justice, Delayed in Libya, Human Rights Watch (Sep. 11, 2019), https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/11/justice-delayed-libya.

[15] Amnesty International Libya 2018, supra note 73; State Department Report Libya 2019, supra note 71.

[16] Freedom in the World 2019: Libya, supra note 66.

[17] Id.

[18] State Department Report Libya 2019, supra note 71.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Grave concerns for trapped civilians in Libya, OHCHR (April 30, 2019), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24535&LangID=E.

[22] State Department Report Libya 2019, supra note 71.

[23] Freedom in the World 2019: Libya, supra note 66.

[24] Amnesty International Libya 2018, supra note 73.

[25] State Department Report Libya 2019, supra note 71.

[26] Human Rights Watch Libya 2019, supra note 63.

[27] Id.

[28] Freedom in the World 2019: Libya, supra note 66; Mario Malie, As a refugee in one of Libya’s dangerous detention centres, I know what it feels like when the world leaves you behind, The Independent (July 15, 2019), https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/libya-strike-refugee-unhcr-tripoli-triq-al-sikka-italy-a9004961.html.

[29] Press briefing note on Libya, OHCHR (June 7, 2019), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24681&LangID=E.

[30] State Department Report Libya 2019, supra note 71.

[31] Id.

[32] Human Rights Watch Libya 2019, supra note 63.

[33] Scores dead off coast of Libya in latest Mediterranean shipwreck, UNHCR (Aug. 27, 2019), https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2019/8/5d6565ac4/scores-dead-coast-libya-latest-mediterranean-shipwreck.html.

[34] Attack on Libyan migrant detention centre Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, OHCHR (July 3, 2019), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24784&LangID=E.

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