GENEVA - The United Nations human rights office warns conditions in Libya have seriously deteriorated over the past year as civilian war casualties multiply and rampant, gross violations of human rights escalate, pervading every aspect of Libyan society.
U.N. officials describe Libya as a society in total disarray. They say everyone is under attack —civilians, human rights defenders, journalists, migrants and refugees.
Rebel leader Khalifa Haftar's military forces began an offensive in April to seize the capital Tripoli. Since then, the U.N. has documented at least 284 civilian deaths and 363 injuries. Most have been caused by airstrikes, followed by ground fighting, improvised explosive devices, abductions and killings.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville says journalists, media workers and human rights defenders are subject to violence, threats and harassment. He says the treatment of migrants and refugees is of particular concern.
"They continue to be routinely subjected to violations and abuses, including extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, abduction for ransom, extortion, and forced labor by state officials, traffickers and by smugglers,” Colville said.
The U.N. office reports more than 8,600 migrants have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya this year. Most of them are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Every year, thousands of desperately poor Africans make the arduous and deadly journey across the desert to Libya in hopes of reaching Europe and a better life.
The migrants, who have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya, are among thousands of others who have made the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing to Italy in fragile smugglers' boats. Many have lost their lives.
Colville notes many of those intercepted at sea have been sent to official and unofficial detention centers. There, they are subjected to serious human rights violations and abuses.
"We are also concerned that parties to the conflict in Libya continue to store weapons and ammunition in close proximity to civilian locations, particularly detention centers where migrants and refugees are being detained,” Colville said. “We remind the parties of their obligation to take all feasible precautions against the effects of attacks."
The U.N. office reports nearly 9,000 people are being held under extremely abusive, violent, overcrowded conditions in 28 official prisons run by Libya's Ministry of Justice. While conditions in these facilities are extremely bad, it says conditions in unofficial places of detention, many run by armed groups, are likely to be even worse.