Women protest against what they is lack of government support after losing their husbands or children in the fighting, in Misrata, Libya November 7, 2020. Picture taken November 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili

Libya: Human Rights Briefing (June – October 2020)

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The Libya Platform and CIHRS

Political negotiations success should be measured against radical improvements in the human sector

Daily bombardments of Libya's capital Tripoli have ceased since June 2020, after the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) coalition and its foreign backers withdrew from most western territory. However, civilians’ relief over the de-escalation in warfare was undermined by the unrelenting repressive practices of the executive authorities and their affiliated armed groups against peaceful demonstrations that broke out across the country in August 2020, and against activists, journalists and civil society organisation (CSOs).

Peaceful gatherings and demonstrations took place throughout Libya despite harsh repression from militias and armed groups affiliated to the western-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).  Such popular mobilization against corruption, deteriorating living conditions, and a lack of basic services have appeared to unify the population, in spite of persistent efforts by warring parties and their foreign backers to sow division between the East, West and South.

Libyans and migrants have continued to suffer from harsh living conditions with inadequate access to water, electricity and proper healthcare. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased exponentially in Libya with 60,628 confirmed cases and 847 confirmed deaths as of 29 October, in a context where many remain extremely vulnerable to the virus, including about 8,000 prisoners and at least 3,000 detained refugees and migrants, subjected to systematic torture, ill-treatment and forced labor. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as of 31st October, 573 refugees and migrants from Libya drowned at sea, notably as a result of the obstruction and criminalization of rescue operations from European authorities, denounced by humanitarian organisations, while refugees and migrants continue to be forcibly returned to the Libyan mainland.

Furthermore, the recent period has seen the repeated discovery of mass graves, which is still ongoing, with no less than 115 bodies in Tarhuna and 30 in Tripoli, some of which were identified as victims of enforced disappearance. Unfortunately, the Government of National Accord (GNA) has not allowed international institutions and experts to conduct adequate scientific analyses in order to determine the identity of all bodies, the date and conditions of death, and whether there were signs of torture. In addition, at least 66 civilians have lost their lives, including children, due to explosive devices planted by LNA-affiliated armed groups when they left western Libya.

Foreign parties have further entrenched their presence in Libya in 2020. The Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization, has deployed up to 3,000 Russian and 2,000 Syrian mercenaries in support of the LNA, while Turkey has deployed about 2,000 Syrian mercenaries, including minors. 3000 Sudanese mercenaries are also estimated to be in Libya, among LNA and GNA affiliated forces.

Both western and eastern authorities have continued to rely on militias and paramilitary groups, including armed extremist groups tied to al-Qaeda and the Madkhali Salafists, to control government offices, banks, the Libyan Investment Agency, oil fields, commercial seaports, and airports. Libyan authorities issue official decrees delegating sweeping powers to these armed groups in order to obtain their backing, putting them in charge of security and law enforcement without any accountability. These paramilitary groups have been incorporated into the security establishment, without training or any uniform national chain of command.

The cycle of violence in Libya has been continuously fed by pervasive impunity and the lack of national level accountability, which has made international accountability a necessary tool to protect Libyan citizens and enhance prospects for peace.

Resumption of political negotiations

The Libya Platform coalition has cautiously welcomed the resumption of negotiations between warring parties and their declared intention of holding elections and a referendum on the draft constitution, as well as the 23 October 2020 ceasefire declaration, which includes the exit of mercenaries and foreign forces. However, due to the entrenchment of foreign backed forces and the lack of rule of law and accountability, warring parties and their foreign supporters may not respect and abide by the ceasefire declarations. Unless the lack of accountability and rule of law is adequately addressed, advancing political negotiations will not lead to meaningful change on the ground.

The Platform urges the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the international community to support the inclusion of Libyan civil society in ongoing political negotiations to ensure necessary steps are taken to lead the country out of crisis, while working to ensure stronger international accountability for crimes committed in the country. As explained in the Libya Platform’s Roadmap document, progress on human rights and the rule of law will notably require a constitutional referendum, transparent elections, and an end to restrictions on the free functioning of independent civil society organizations. Sustained international engagement and vigilance are required to maintain the ceasefire and stop breaches of the arms embargo.

A non-exhaustive account of human rights and humanitarian law violations from June until October 2020 is given below.

Table of Contents
I. Extrajudicial Killing and Inhumane Treatment
II.Enforced Disappearance and Arbitrary Detention
III.Attacks on Fundamental Freedoms
- Freedom of Association
- Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
- Right to Political Participation
- Freedom of the Press
IV.Migrants, Refugees and Asylum-seekers
V.Violations of International Humanitarian Law

Both eastern and western executive authorities, the Libyan National Army (LNA) and Government of National Accord (GNA) respectively, and their affiliated armed groups, continue to engage in extrajudicial killing and inhumane treatment, particularly during arbitrary detention. On June 3, an armed group  raided the home of 51-year-old Khamis Muhammad Khamis in Taragan, south of Sabha, and killed him and his four children with gunfire for unknown reasons. On June 6, Al-Rizqi Al-Hamali Al-Gaddafi was killed by an armed group affiliated with the LNA in Al-Gharibat region, south of Sirte, for unknown reasons. On June 14, the body of Hatem Al-Sadiq Shaqlouf was found, with bullet wounds, among the bodies discovered at the Tarhuna Hospital, after he went missing near the Qarabulli area in early February 2020.

On 9 July, the 128th Battalion, a radical Salafist brigade affiliated with the LNA coalition, kidnapped and killed 30-year-old  Tarek and threw his body onto the street in Houn (Jufra district). Tarek's brother, Ahmad, 34, was arrested and transferred from Houn to Benghazi.  A second person, Emad, was detained by the 128th Battalion and died under torture on 10 July. On 9 August, the body of Abdul Moneim Abdul Karim Al Dibani, 63, was found south of Benghazi, a day after he had been kidnapped by armed men.On September 13, Saeed Mahmoud Saleh Al-DARSSI was killed after protesters were shot at in Al-Marj, an area under control of the LNA. Demonstrations were taking place in Al-Marj as well as in Benghazi to demand the overthrow of the eastern-based interim government and the improvement of living conditions.

In the western region, six new cases of extrajudicial killing at the hands of armed groups affiliated with the Government of National Accord were recorded. On June 27, 19-year-old Hussam Abdullah Al-Hamrouni was killed by an unknown gunmen in the street of the city Qasr Al-Akhyar, east of Tripoli. On July 28, Radwan Abdullah Bait Al-Afia and Hatem Saleh Al-Dabiei were shot and killed in their car by an unidentified armed group on the Al-Jibs road in Tripoli. On 16 August, an armed group from Zuwara killed a man named Nasser in Al-Asabaa, and on 9 of September, another man - Hussein - was killed in Ganzour, a town controlled by the GNA-affiliated Fursan Ganzour Brigade (FGB). On 14 of September, a man named Anis was killed in front of his home in Gurgi, where armed clashes took place in the same month between the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade (TRB) and Central Security Unit. 

The months of July and August respectively marked the one-year anniversaries of the kidnapping and disappearance of Member of Parliament Siham Sergiwa in Benghazi by Awliya al-Dam, an armed group affiliated with the LNA, and the killing of Walid al-Tarhouni, an official at the Ministry of Justice, in Tripoli. The fate of Sergiwa remains unknown. No steps were taken by the judiciary to ensure a proper investigation and accountability, mainly due to intimidation by armed groups. 

In addition, on 26 October, the death of an inmate in al-Kuwaifiyah prison, Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Mushaiti, 52, was reported as a result of medical negligence and failure to provide the necessary medical care by the prison administration.

Mass graves indicate a systematic practice of summary executions

On 6 June, the body of 46-year-old Suleiman Al-Hadi Bashir Al-Maaloul was found in Tarhouna, in a container among 42 bodies. He was identified as a fighter affiliated with the Government of National Accord, who had been captured in early January 2020 on Tripoli Airport Road. 

On 8 June, three graves were found inside the security headquarters of the 9th Brigade militia in Tarhuna, south of Tripoli, as well as the body of Nasser Muhammad Arhumah Al-Subaie, a 33-year -old man from Sirte. He was kidnapped from his car on 20 May by the Al-Qumat armed group in front of his family, who identified his body. 

On 9 June, the body of 58-year-old Abdullah Abu Bakr Ali Al-Mudawi was found decomposing inside a water tank in a house in Tarhuna. Al-Mudawi was kidnapped from his home in Tarhuna by an armed group affiliated with the 9th Brigade (Kaniyat militia) on 22 December 2019. 

On 22 July, the handcuffed and blindfolded remains of eleven bodies were recovered in a mass grave in the Mashrou El Rabt neighbourhood in Tarhuna. In October, 26 other bodies were discovered in that same area. 

On 10 August, the body of 38-year –old Abd al-Fattah Muhammad Abu Khurais bin Fayed, was found in Majer, on the outskirts of Zliten, three days after he was kidnapped. 

On 17 September, the remains of Hani Rajab Abd Al-Salam Al-Shteiwi, an employee at the Mitiga International Airport, were found in a water drainage tank at the headquarters of the Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in the Qasr Bin Ghashir district, after his kidnapping last June.

On October 2nd, the 128th Battalion, a radical Salafist brigade affiliated with the Libyan National Army coalition, kidnapped Mohamed Ibrahim from his work in Obari, in southwestern Libya. Two days later, he was found in the Sabha Public Hospital with signs of torture, which caused his death later that month.

The search and recovery operations of bodies in Tarhouna and Tripoli remain ongoing, with at least 145 bodies recovered in the period under review. 

In the context of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Libya, state-affiliated militias and paramilitary groups have continued to arbitrarily detain thousands of Libyans and non-Libyans, men and women, often holding them incommunicado without charge for prolonged periods. 

The detainees, deprived of their liberty based on activism, tribal or family links, or perceived political or media affiliations, are neither brought before a prosecutor nor given access to a lawyer, translator, doctor, or to their families. Those arbitrarily detained include individuals held in relation to the 2011 armed conflict, many without charge, and awaiting trial for approximately a decade. These arrests and grave violations are perpetrated by state security groups without any oversight from the judiciary, whose orders they don’t abide to. Official authorities have failed to take practical steps to end these abuses and violations. 

On June 30, three people were kidnapped from the areas of Bin Jawad and Al-Nawfaliya, west of Ajdabiya, including the director of the Bin Jawad Hospital, after their homes were raided by the internal security apparatus of the Libyan National Army. 

On August 15, Ahmed, an employee at the University of Ajdabiya, was kidnapped in the city of Ajdabiya, after  persons affiliated with the LNA intercepted his car. 

On September 8, a lawyer, Ali, was kidnapped by gunmen affiliated with the LNA in Benghazi. 

On September 12, Abdul, a doctor, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen near his home in central Tripoli; he was later released on September 20. 

On October 1st, civil society activist Walid Al-Hudhairy, director of the Office of International Relations and Cooperation at the National Commission for Human Rights, and an employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was arrested by the Libyan intelligence service affiliated with the GNA.

On October 3, another doctor, Fadel Soury, was released after being kidnapped in Tripoli on September 17 by a militia from the town of Zawyia, west of Tripoli.

Freedom of Association

Restrictions on Libya’s civil society are increasing on an unprecedented level, representing a significant threat to international and local organizations. These restrictions do not only harm rights groups but they also harm associations working on education, humanitarian relief, social work, and development. Over the last four years, the two vying Libyan authorities in the east and west, despite their political and armed conflict, have restricted freedom of association and expression without any consideration of Libya’s constitutional and international obligations to uphold these rights.

On October 14, the Tripoli Civil Society Commission issued a circular requiring all civil society organisations (CSOs) registered in the last five years to register again, otherwise they would be considered illegitimate organizations and dissolved by the commission. Furthermore, in the new registration process, organisations are requested to sign a pledge that they will not enter into communication with any embassy or international organization without prior authorization from executive authorities. 

Branches of the Civil Society Commission in the east and west have already forced local CSOs to re-register according to executive orders and decrees issued in 2016 and again in 2019. The Civil Society Commission in Benghazi issued decrees 1 and 2 in January 2016, while the Government of National Accord's Presidential Council issued executive order 286 in 2019. The two decrees and executive order currently regulate the work of local and foreign organizations in terms of establishment, registration and organization, giving the executive authority extensive powers to restrict, suspend and dissolve them. The Civil Society Commission in Misrata also issued decision n°29 on May 2018, which dissolved nineteen local organizations, and the Civil Society Commission in Benghazi suspended 37 local organizations under decision n°3 issued on February 2019.

These executive decisions violate Article 15 of Libya’s Constitution, which stipulates that the freedom to form political parties, associations and other civil society organizations be guaranteed by the State.

The Libya Platform underscores the unconstitutionality of the decrees and executive orders issued to regulate and govern freedom of association. They represent a usurpation of legislative power by the executive. Libya’s executive authorities have no right to regulate freedom of association on their own; they are only mandated to issue decisions and regulations concerning the application of laws issued by the legislative authorities in that regard. This is confirmed by a ruling of Libya’s Supreme Court (Administrative Appeal: 37-39 /1991) which considers that the “executive act loses its correctness and validity” and is “considered null” when the executive act presents a severe and substantial defect. This is the case when the executive authority exercises an act that falls under the jurisdiction of the legislative authorities.

The Platform reminds Libyan executive authorities of the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, presented to the UN General Assembly in May 2012, which states that:

“The suspension and the involuntarily dissolution of an association are the severest types of restrictions on freedom of association. As a result, it should only be possible when there is a clear and imminent danger resulting in a flagrant violation of national law, in compliance with international human rights law. It should be strictly proportional to the legitimate aim pursued and used only when softer measures would be insufficient.”

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Peaceful protests, responding to calls for demonstrations that have appeared on social media since early August 2020, started on 23 August in Sebha, Tripoli, and Benghazi; similar protests followed in Sirte, Misrata, Zawiya, Ghat, Aljmail, Obary and Al Marj. Demonstrators throughout Libya have advanced demands for the right to a dignified life, the provision of basic services, and an end to rampant corruption.

In spite of their political and military rivalry, both eastern and western-based authorities have taken similarly repressive action in response to the demonstrations, cracking down on demonstrators, and targeting journalists and peaceful activists.

Public squares were closed with heavy artillery pieces to prevent demonstrations, such as in Benghazi on 23 August, and in Tripoli on 28 August. Demonstration permits have been denied in Tripoli since 23 August and a four-day long curfew was imposed on 26 August. On 4 October, the Tripoli Security Directorate refused to give a permit to the coordinators of the "Himma Al-Shabab" movement to demonstrate peacefully in Tripoli's Martyrs Square. 

In Sirte, all internet and communication services in the city were cut, and anyone found in possession of any equipment that could be used to install satellite communication or internet networks was threatened with arrest. Dissenting voices and demonstrators in Tripoli and Benghazi have also been targeted online by hate speech and accusations of national treason, including from public figures.

Excessive violence was used against demonstrators, including gunfire, leading to one death in Tripoli and one in Sirte, and multiple injuries. 

On August 11, three civilians, including professors at the University of Sirte, were arrested by armed groups affiliated with the LNA in Sirte, after they participated in a peaceful demonstration in the city. Two of them were released hours later. The third person is still detained and his whereabouts are unknown. 

On August 11, four civilians were arrested in Sirte by the Internal Security Agency, after they participated in a peaceful demonstration and raised slogans in support of the former regime. Three of them were released after hours of arbitrary detention, and the fate of the fourth remains unknown. On the same day,  another two people from Benghazi were arrested by the security services of the General Command of the LNA after they appeared in videos carrying slogans in support of Saif Gaddafi.

Live bullets were fired in Tripoli, resulting in a number of demonstrators wounded and six arrested, including Muhannad Al-Kawafi, a coordinator of the 23/8 protest movement, and Sami Al-Sharif, the director of Al-Jawhara Radio, on August 23rd. He was transferred to Abu Laila Tower, according to his colleagues and testimonies collected by Amnesty International.  Abul Laila Tower is controlled by the Al Nawasi militia, affiliated with the Government of National Accord.  They were later released.

On August 25, two individuals – Fadi and Zakaria – were arrested by armed groups during demonstrations in Tripoli, and both were released on August 29. 

On August 28, two activists participating in the demonstrations in Tripoli, Muhammad and Salem, were kidnapped by an armed group affiliated with the GNA from Martyrs Square in Tripoli, and later released. 

On September 6, civil society activist Ahmed, a 44-year -old from Tobruk, was arrested by the Internal Security Agency for filming and publishing a video while participating in protests against the deteriorating living conditions in the city.

On 12 September, an activist and demonstrator was arrested following a raid on his home by the Internal Security Forces in Benghazi. 

On 14 September, after participating in local demonstrations, Munem Muhammad Al-Nazouri was arrested by the Internal Security Agency near his home in Al-Marj. Thirty protesters were detained in Al-Marj. On the same day, two civil society activists, Jumah Al-Senussi and Khamis Saeed, were arrested by the 116th battalion of the LNA, on the road between Sabha and Murzuq. They were released on 18 September.

On 21 September, an activist was arrested by unknown individuals in an unmarked car, while he was participating in a peaceful demonstration in Benghazi, calling for the end of corruption, democracy and the holding of elections in Benghazi's Al-Kish Square. He was released five days later.

Right to Political Participation

On 25 August, an armed Salafist brigade affiliated to the Libyan National Army attacked polling stations in the municipality of Taraghin in southwestern Libya, closed them, and prevented municipal elections from being held. The Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections announced the suspension of  elections for security reasons. The same brigade repeated its intimidation at the Al-Qatrun polling center on 29 August. Likewise, the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections announced the suspension of elections for the Al-Qatrun municipality.

Freedom of the Press

Journalists, like rights defenders, members of civil society organisations, bloggers, activists and members of the judiciary, regularly endure smear campaigns, raids on their homes and workplaces, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and interrogations and harassment at security checkpoints, in addition to threats of military prosecution under the Law on Combating Terrorism (2014). 

Journalists are systematically and arbitrarily prosecuted, notably before military tribunals in eastern Libya. According to the Libyan Organization for Independent Media (LOFIM), at least 35 civilians have been prosecuted in military courts since 2015, among them photojournalist Ismail Bouzriba al-Zway. On 28 July, his family learned that he had been sentenced -two months earlier -  by a military court in Benghazi to 15 years in prison, in connection with his work as a journalist.

In Misrata, journalist and civic society activist Abdul Latif Abu Hamra was arrested by security services on 23 August while covering a local COVID-19 awareness campaign. That same day, Director General of Al-Jawhara Radio Network Sami al-Sharif was detained and reportedly tortured while reporting on demonstrations in Tripoli. On 20 October, Mohammed Bayou, head of the Government of National Accord's Media Office, was arbitrarily arrested in Tripoli by armed forces suspected to be the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade (TRB).

Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya, including women and children, face severe inhumane conditions and systematic grave violations, including lack of food and medical care inside or outside detention. Internal displacement caused by rampant armed conflict has increased due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There are frequent reports of migrants exploited, abused, traded, ransomed, or deported to neighboring countries with no information on their whereabouts. Since June 2020, it is estimated that 328 migrants were illegally expelled from Kufra to Chad, 1,193 to Sudan, three  to Nigeria and three to Niger. Kufra has essentially become a deportation center, receiving migrants smuggled in from the East. In the Zliten detention center, testimonies attest to the sale of at least 60 Bangladeshi migrants. 

As highlighted repeatedly by Libyan and international organisations, Libya remains an unsafe country that does not offer safe ports for disembarkation. In spite of this, policies against so-called irregular migration continue to undermine international legal instruments and conventions, notably through the signing of externalization and cooperation agreements between the European Union or European Member states and the Libyan Coast Guard and Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), whose members have been identified as or have links with human traffickers, leading to violations such as illegal refoulement, forced returns and the criminalisation and obstruction of search and rescue operations. According to the International Organisation for Migration, as of 31st October, 573 refugees and migrants died attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean in 2020. 

On 28 July, three Sudanese citizens were killed and two others wounded by members of the Libyan Coast Guard after their boat was intercepted and returned by force from the city of Khoms, and as they were trying to flee from arbitrary detainment. They are among the 9,400 men, women, and children intercepted on the central Mediterranean and forcibly returned to Libya in 2020, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

On 10 September, the Security Directorate of Bani Walid freed eight Egyptian nationals who were kidnapped on the road between the town of Al Qurayyat and Al Shwerf in the south, then sold to a human trafficker in Bani Walid. They were subjected to torture and their families were asked to pay a ransom of thirty thousand dinars each. 

On 28 September, masked armed men stormed homes in Al Ajaylat, kidnapped 350 people, mostly from West Africa, and took them to a warehouse in Sabratah. Sixty of them, including 24 children, remain in captivity, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF). On 1 and 2 October, three detainees were killed and others wounded after being shot at by their captors as they attempted to flee. According to local testimonies, the migrants were kidnapped by the Sabratha Revolutionary Brigade and the Joint Security Force both aligned to GNA.

On 6 October, three Libyans stormed a factory where African migrants were working, detained one of the workers, a Nigerian, poured gasoline on him and set him on fire. Three others suffered burns. 

On 11 October, the Ministry of Interior of the eastern-based Government of National Accord announced the release of seven Indian workers who had been kidnapped by a criminal gang in the Shwerif region, in southwestern Libya.

On 14 October, smuggler Abdul Rahman Milad "Al Baida", sanctioned by the UN,  was arrested by the Coast Guard in Tripoli, based on an arrest warrant from the Attorney General's office, for his involvement in human trafficking and fuel smuggling.

With total impunity, militias routinely violate the principles of international humanitarian law, emboldened by the inaction of the Libyan authorities in the east and west. Showing utter disregard for the Geneva Conventions, militias target civilians, medical facilities, airports, schools, and oil fields in their struggle for power.

On 4 June, airstrikes targeted the home of the Al-Hawari family in Qasr Bin Ghashir, killing sixteen people, including three children, and seriously wounding sixteen others, including four children.

On 6 June, the air force under the Government of National Accord  bombed civilian cars 50km south of Sirte, an area hosting displaced families from Tarhuna. The bombing killed ten civilians and wounded another.

On 7 June, homes and properties were demolished, targeted by explosions and set on fire in the city centre of Tarhuna, as part of reprisals carried out by supporters of the GNA.

On 8 June, shells hit three homes in the 30th Gate region west of Sirte, killing seven civilians and wounding twenty-four others. On the same day, airstrikes targeting Aisha Abu Al-Niran Mosque in Jarf, southwest of Sirte, resulted in the death of Abd Al-Ati Milad Makhzoum Al-Khatri Gaddafi and wounded two others.

On 9 June, shelling from the Libyan National Army hit homes in the Al Batuma and Al Sadd neighbourhoods in the Jarf area, south of Sirte, killing four civilians and wounding more than twenty, and causing severe damage to homes and properties. 

The withdrawal of the LNA and affiliated forces from western Libya in June saw the gradual return of citizens from southern Tripoli to their homes after at least a year of displacement. This return, however, was hindered by the presence of explosive devices and landmines, planted by LNA-affiliated groups as they left. Between May and September 2020, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there have been 94 mine-related incidents, resulting in 66 deaths and 117 injuries. 

Photo: Women protest against what they is lack of government support after losing their husbands or children in the fighting, in Misrata, Libya November 7, 2020. Picture taken November 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili

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