By Libya Herald reporters.
Tunis, 12 October 2017:
The Presidency Council (PC) can and should act on Libya’ massive human rights challenges by combating arbitrary detention and taking back the powers given to armed groups, the UN’s Commissioner for Human Rights has said.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was speaking in Geneva after an unpublicised one-day visit to Tripoli, the first that had ever been made by a UN Human Rights Commissioner. He explained that his trip of Tuesday had been kept secret for security reasons. Nevertheless Hussein had managed to cram in meetings with Presidency Council (PC) head Faiez Serraj, justice, interior and migration chiefs as well as human rights and female activists and members of the Tawerghan community. He also fitted in a brief call at a migrant detention camp.
“The human rights challenges in Libya are massive,” he said, “ but they are not insurmountable. 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 the government can and should lead. It can begin combating the practice of arbitrary detention and taking back the powers given to armed groups”.
Though he said he was optimistic, it was also apparent that he was pressing for more than promises. He explained that though very short, his visit was potentially important: “It was intended to stimulate, and hopefully sustain, not just a productive dialogue but also concrete actions which could ultimately lead to significant improvements in the lives of the people of Libya”.
He said that given the time constraints he had chosen to focus on the particularly urgent issues of arbitrary detention, torture and other grave violations.
“Individual centres,” he said, “such as the Mitiga detention centre, are of particular concern given the horrific reports emerging from them. The situation there needs to be addressed urgently, as do other facilities where abuses are endemic”.
Hussein said he had been told that one of the detention centres in Surman had been closed after serious allegations of sexual abuse. He added that the UNHRC would be working with the government to confirm the closure.
The commissioner said he had been told of the significant challenges brought about by years of violence and instability, the near breakdown of the rule of law, the proliferation of armed groups, the deteriorating humanitarian situation, the collapse of basic services and the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people.
“I appreciate the magnitude of these challenges,” he said, “and have heard how they affect the government’s ability to undertake and fulfil its duties. At the same time, I have put forward suggestions in areas where progress can be progressively made if appropriate action is taken”.
Hussein said he had pressed officials to press ahead swiftly with the screening of pre-trial detainees to ensure either that the trials are held or the detainees are released. The government should also take control of all detention centres and ensure the accountability of staff. He further called for human rights monitors to be given unfettered access to wherever suspects or convicted prisoners were being held.