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UN HRC High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Visits Libya and Calls for Human Rights Reforms

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, last week became the first UN Rights Chief to make an official visit to Libya, welcomed commitments he received from authorities, including Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, and the ministers of Justice and Interior, to address a wide range of abuses.

On Thursday Zeid Ra’ad said that the Government “can and should” lead efforts to urgently address arbitrary detention, torture and other grave violations that must be brought to an end in the crisis-torn North African country. He also 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”.

The country has  become the main launchpad for African migrants trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean in boats operated by smugglers, but many of the migrants are also detained in the country, reportedly in horrific conditions. In addition to his meetings with members of Libya’s government, the high commissioner said he had met with civil society,women’s human rights groups, and had visited one of the country’s main prisons and a camp for displaced people during his one-day visit. “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,” he added. Zeid especially stressed the “horrific” reports emerging from a number of detention centres, including the #Mitigia detention centre .“The situation there needs to be addressed urgently, as do other facilities where abuses are endemic,” he warned.

Zeid acknowledged that “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”. But he insisted that there was still much the government could do to improve the situation, urging it to “halt the practice of arbitrary detention, and to ensure accountability for the abuses perpetrated against migrants in detention centres”. He said authorities had told him one of the detention centres in #Surman, where there have been serious allegations of sexual abuse, had been closed, stressing that his office was working with the government to confirm that this was the case.

“The human rights challenges in Libya are massive, but they are not insurmountable,” Zeid said.

Libya has been struggling with human rights violations to the extend of war crimes recently raised and filed by the International Criminal Court. While all sides in the country have been in violation of international laws, eastern Libya has witnessed ongoing gross human rights violations. From #Ganfouda to #Derna, Libyans have suffered immensely; many times under the claims of the fight on terrorism. Forced disappearance, indiscriminate killing, and arbitrary detainment of civilians has been a constant fear of Libyans,.

Former heads of UNSMIL have remained on the side lines and silent about human rights violations and have sometimes appeared to choose political negotiations with Libya’s players such as Khalifa Haftar over the siege and killing of civilians.

Time will tell what role Ghassan Salame will choose to play in keeping human rights reforms and accountability as a top priority for #Libya’s stability and whether the High Commissioner’s visit to Libya will reset UNSMIL’s commitment to its human rights mandate

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