Fighting in recent months between armed groups in western and eastern Libya, as well as in the south, has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, mass displacement and acute humanitarian conditions for those trapped in conflict zones, a new UN human rights report released Tuesday warns.
The report published jointly by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office, documents indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, the abduction of civilians, torture and reports of executions, as well as deliberate destruction of property, among other serious abuses and violations of international law in various parts of the country.
In western Libya, in the area of Warshafana, fighting between rival armed groups has killed an estimated 100 people and injured 500 between late August and early October. The fighting has caused a humanitarian crisis, with at least 120,000 people forced to flee their homes and severe shortages of food and medical supplies. Hundreds of houses, farms and other businesses have also been destroyed. Fighting in the Nafusa mountains, bordering Warshafana, has also reportedly resulted in 170 deaths.
In Benghazi, since the fighting escalated in mid-October, 450 people have reportedly been killed. Residents are facing serious shortcomings in medical care, as hospitals have been hit or occupied by armed groups. UNSMIL has also received reports of fighters wearing uniforms of the Libyan Red Crescent Society and using one of its ambulances to carry out a suicide attack. Tit-for-tat attacks on property have also led to the destruction of many houses. More than 15,000 families – some 90,000 people – have been displaced from Benghazi. Of these, more than 5,600 Tawerghans have been displaced for the second time – three years after their first forcible displacement by armed groups from Misrata.
"Dozens of civilians have been abducted by all sides, solely for their actual or suspected tribal, family or religious affiliation, often as hostages in order to exchange them for others held by the opposing side," the report states.
"UNSMIL has also received allegations of torture and other abuses which are consistent with earlier patterns of ill-treatment of detainees, but are a cause of even greater concern because of the heightened political tensions and the ongoing active hostilities."
Political and human rights activists, media professionals and other public figures have been targeted by armed groups, with many having been abducted, threatened or had their homes looted or burned.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned all the parties involved in the fighting that grave abuses of international human rights and international humanitarian law are criminally liable, including before the International Criminal Court which is investigating the situation in Libya.
"As a commander of an armed group, you are criminally liable under international law if you commit or order the commission of grave human rights abuses or fail to take reasonable and necessary measures to prevent or punish their commission," High Commissioner Zeid warned.
"I urge all those in positions of authority to declare publicly that acts amounting to violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law will not be tolerated."
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Bernardino Leon, urged all sides of the conflict to immediately cease armed hostilities.
"All those suffering in this violence deserve to live in safety with their rights fully protected”, Leon said. "I appeal to all Libyan political and military leaders to engage, as a matter of urgency, in a genuine political dialogue to take Libya out of the current crisis."