The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Libya on 17 August 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within the initial 60-day period. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.
The Special Rapporteur further raised concern about the treatment of human rights defenders supporting migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya during her presentation of a report before the UN General Assembly in New York, on 13 October 2022. Watch here.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: alleged attacks, detention and ill-treatment of human rights defenders who provide humanitarian assistance to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and support their rights.
According to UN reports, including of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, migrants and asylum seekers in Libya have for years been subjected to acts of murder, brutal attacks, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, and enslavement among other human rights violations across the country. Armed groups and human traffickers are responsible for these violations, often with the collusion or participation of security agents and some State authorities. These violations are also directly perpetrated by state actors, including the Libyan Coast Guard and Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration. Activities of human rights defenders to uncover these atrocities have put them at risk of retaliation. In order to protect those human rights defenders, we have chosen to preserve their confidentiality.
During the past few months, a number of migrant rights defenders have come to our attention; they suffered arbitrary arrest, detention in official centres and secret detention facilities, torture for several months, and continuous intimidation, including by online smears and forced confessions.
Some of the defenders worked on highlighting human rights violations suffered by fellow migrants and perpetrated by State and non-State actors in Libya, including killings, arbitrary arrests, detention under inhumane conditions and abuses committed by the Libyan Coast Guards among other state actors. Others have assisted migrant women and children in need of shelter, and helped them gain access to UNHCR or to medical care. They have all faced threats from State-sponsored armed groups as a result of their activism. More recently, they became online victims of defamation and incitement to hatred and violence on security agencies’ social media pages.
Among the migrant rights defenders were Libyan nationals who said they have been accused of conspiring against the stability of their country and of trying to “colonize it with foreign migrants.” Others said the government had prevented them from visiting detained migrants, and that they were exposed to abuse at detention centres, and threats by human trafficking gangs.
Also included were defenders from their own migrant community, who suffered as activists in addition to the dangers they faced across Libya as migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Women migrant rights defenders faced gender-based intimidation and threats by militia and, in some cases, by local residents of their neighbourhood.
As a result, those migrant rights defenders working in Libya live mostly in hiding, evicted from rental accommodation, unable to engage in paid work, and forced to rely on other fellow migrants for shelter and food.
In the communication we expressed our serious concern for the physical and psychological safety of migrant rights defenders we believe to be at risk of retaliation in direct connection with their work promoting and defending the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. We further wish to highlight our grave concern regarding state forces and state-supported armed groups alleged backing of and collaboration with human traffickers.