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Libyan State, Armed Militia Groups Allegedly Commit War Crimes with Impunity

FILE - Migrants heading to Europe are brought back after being intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea by the Libyan coast guard, May 23, 2022.

U.N. investigators have accused Libyan state security forces and armed militia groups of committing a wide array of crimes with impunity, many of which could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The three-member U.N. Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya on Monday presented its final report on what it called "the country's deteriorating human rights situation" since the beginning of 2016. And the picture it paints is not pretty.

The investigation has documented numerous cases of arbitrary detention, murder, rape, enslavement, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance. Despite the gravity of these crimes, the investigators noted that nearly all the survivors interviewed refrained from lodging official complaints "out of fear of reprisals, arrest, extortion and a lack of confidence in the justice system."

Mohamed Auajjar, chair of the Libya Fact-Finding Mission, said the body found "overwhelming evidence that migrants have been systematically tortured while in detention and that sexual slavery, a crime against humanity, was committed against migrants."

Factual evidence gathered by the U.N. investigators found that state institutions, groups, and individuals were involved in the commission of violations and abuses.

The mission found that crimes against humanity were committed against migrants in places of detention under the actual or nominal control of the Libyan Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, the Libyan coast guard and other entities.

Auajjar said, "These entities received technical, logistic and monetary support from the European Union and its member states."

Chaloka Beyani, a member of the mission, added that "the support given by the E.U. to the Libyan coast guard in terms of fallbacks, pushbacks and interceptions lead to violations of certain human rights."

"Non-refoulement, for example – you cannot push back people to areas that are unsafe," he said, "and the Libyan waters are unsafe for embarkations of migrants quite clearly."

The ongoing systemic widespread character of the crimes documented by the mission strongly suggests that individuals and officials of security and military agencies at all levels of the hierarchy and affiliated militias are implicated.

"The violations and abuses investigated by the mission were connected primarily to a reconsolidation of power and wealth by militias and other state-affiliated groups through, for instance, the misappropriation of public funds," said Auajjar. "It is beyond question that significant revenue arising from the widescale exploitation of vulnerable irregular migrants incentivized the continuation of the violations documented."

The mission has undertaken 13 field trips to Libya since it was established by the U.N. human rights council in June 2020. It has interviewed more than 400 survivors and witnesses and collected more than 2,800 items of information.

More than 670,000 migrants from over 41 countries were present in Libya when the mission began its investigation and these numbers have been increasing since 2021.

The International Organization for Migration reports around 5,000 migrants are held in official detention centers, though it believes that number is greatly underestimated. The number of migrants detained in secret facilities run by armed militia groups is unknown.

Many of the migrants, who include asylum seekers and refugees, come from West and East Africa and from lands as far away as Afghanistan.

Beyani notes smuggling and trafficking of migrants has become a huge money-making industry in Libya. He said geography largely determines which migrants are likely to be kidnapped and held for ransom.

"So, those coming from East Africa, for example, attract a fairer price in terms of smuggling and trafficking than those coming from West Africa.

"The perception is that perhaps they have a lot more money in this regard," he added.

The report said there are reasonable grounds to believe migrants "were enslaved in official detention centers as well as 'secret prisons,' and that rape as a crime against humanity was committed."

It said detainees were subjected regularly to torture, solitary confinement, held incommunicado and denied adequate access to water, food, toilets, medical care and other essentials.

It also deplored the systematic discrimination of women in Libya, saying that their situation has markedly deteriorated over the past three years.

The mission is calling for ending impunity through criminal accountability on the international and local level and recommends supporting the Libyan judiciary to strengthen its capacity for accountability.

The investigators are calling for the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained in Libya and for secret prisons to be dismantled. It stressed that perpetrators of gross human rights violations must be held accountable for their crimes.

The report will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council later this week.