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UN-backed probe finds proof of torture, sex slavery in Libya

March 27, 2023

A UN fact-finding mission to Libya uncovered multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity. Migrants, in particular, have been targeted, and it said EU support to authorities have contributed to the abuse.

Rescued migrants are seated next to a coast guard boat in Khoms, Libya
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants seeking a better quality of life in EuropeImage: Hazem Ahmed/ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

A United Nations-backed inquiry has found war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Libya by security forces and armed militia groups.

The investigators commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council found, "migrants, in particular, have been targeted and there is overwhelming evidence that they have been systematically tortured."

In the report released on Monday, the team of three independent investigators also said they had reasonable grounds to believe that there were incidents of sexual slavery.

"There is an urgent need for accountability to end this pervasive impunity," Mohamed Auajjar, who led the investigation, said.

European funding contributed to abuse

Investigators said "there are reasonable grounds to believe that migrants across Libya are victims of crimes against humanity and that acts of murder, enforced disappearance, torture, enslavement, sexual violence, rape and other inhumane acts are committed in connection with their arbitrary detention."

It specifically cited the Libyan coast guard, which the European Union has supported over the years, of being responsible for abuses.

"The support given by the EU to the Libyan coast guard in terms of pull-backs, pushbacks, (and) interceptions led to violations of certain human rights," said investigator Chaloka Beyani. "You can't push back people to areas that are unsafe, and the Libyan waters are unsafe for the embarkation of migrants."

The coast guard, has worked "in close coordination" with trafficking networks in Libya, the report said.

The "wide-scale exploitation of vulnerable, irregular migrants" churned up "significant revenue" that spurred continued rights violations, it said.

Beyani added the EU wasn't responsible war crimes, but "the support given has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes."

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said the EU did not fund the Libyan coast guard "nor any other entity in Libya," adding that the EU assistance was meant to "improve their performance."

Hell on Earth: Refugees in Libya


Overwhelming evidence about abuses

The investigation, officially named the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, was created nearly three years ago to investigate rights violations and abuses in the North African country.

Its final report are based on interviews with hundreds of people, including migrants and witnesses.

Although migrants bore the brunt of the crimes ordinary Libyans were also targeted as authorities tried to quell dissent by civil society

The report cites cases of "arbitrary detention, murder, torture, rape, enslavement, sexual slavery, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance, confirming their widespread practice in Libya".

People detained were regularly subjected to "torture, solitary confinement, held incommunicado, and denied adequate access to water, food, toilets, sanitation, light, exercise, medical care, legal counsel, and communication with family members", the investigators said.

They said evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity would be passed on to the International Criminal Court.

lo/jcg (AP, AFP, Reuters)