The security and political situation in Libya has deteriorated significantly, resulting in the temporary withdrawal from the country of the British Embassy, along with the UN, and other international partners, including the US and France. There is also a reduced presence of human rights and humanitarian NGOs in Libya, some of which have been the victims of targeted threats and assassinations. As a consequence, we have had to suspend most of our programmed project work in Libya, which has had a significant impact upon our capacity to deliver human rights projects, and on the Libyan government’s capacity to address human rights issues.
In early July, fighting broke out in Tripoli as the Mistratan-led alliances fought to remove the traditionalist Zintani forces from Tripoli International Airport. On 24 August, after a month of intense fighting, the Misratan Alliances took over the airport, and forced the Zintani militias to leave Tripoli. Meanwhile, in Benghazi, fighting continues between the Haftar-led forces of Operation Dignity and the Islamist Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council over control of Benina Airport. There have also been reports of ongoing clashes between rival tribes in the south of the country.
As a result of continued fighting in both Tripoli and Benghazi, the humanitarian situation in both cities has deteriorated. Civilian casualties have been reported in both cities. Over the summer, there were severe fuel shortages in Tripoli, which had knock-on effects on other supplies such as cooking gas, food and medical supplies; there were also extensive water and electricity shortages. Basic services in Tripoli have improved since the fighting stopped; however, the damage to infrastructure, such as the electricity grid and Tripoli airport, will take a long time to fix.
On 6 August, Amnesty International issued a press release declaring the shelling of civilian areas, resulting in death or injury to civilians, a war crime. This followed a statement issued by the Libyan National Committee for Human Rights on 4 August, calling on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by armed groups in Libya. This includes crimes such as forcible displacement, kidnapping, murder and assaults on civilians and civilian areas. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) issued their own statement on 4 September that expressed concern about serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Tripoli and Benghazi. In response to the violence, the UN Security Council adopted UNSCR 2174 on Libya on 28 August, expanding its sanctions regime to target those involved in violence, and tightening the arms embargo already in place.
Against this backdrop of violence, following the parliamentary elections on 25 June, the newly-elected Parliament (House of Representatives) sat for the first time in Tobruk on 4 August. This provoked discontent among Islamist and Misratan representatives, who argue that the new Parliament is illegitimate due to there being no formal handover with the old General National Congress (GNC), and that this contravenes the Libyan Constitutional Declaration. This has prompted a split between those who recognise the legitimacy of the new House of Representatives, and those who continue to support the GNC. This has effectively resulted in Libya having two governments, neither of whom has been able to exert control over security. UN-sponsored talks, supported by the mediation work of the UK Envoy, took place in Ghadames on 29 September between MPs boycotting the parliamentary sessions in Tobruk and representatives from the House of Representatives. The UN talks were a significant achievement and tentative first steps towards reconciliation. Talks ended with agreement to a further meeting after Eid and two confidence-building measures: both sides would work together to open all the airports, and allow money transfers and humanitarian support for wounded fighters and civilians affected by the fighting.
The state of detention centres and treatment of detainees in Libya remains a concern.Human Rights Watch has reported on the appalling conditions of migrant detention centres, and there is serious concern that a large number of migrant detainees have been subjected to torture, including whippings, beatings, and sexual assault. Detention centres continue to suffer from poor sanitation, overcrowding and a lack of medical provisions. Though conditions in detention centres for Libyan citizens are slightly better, they also remain a cause for concern that the Libyan government must address.
A number of detention facilities remain completely outside of government control, including makeshift prisons run solely by militias or private groups in farms and abandoned buildings. However, the Justice Minister has reported that 26 prison facilities, containing approximately 6,000-10,000 detainees, are under state control. Additionally, the justice system is still not fully functioning and, in some areas, such as Derna and Benghazi, has completely collapsed. There is a lack of security for judges, prosecutors and judicial police, with assassinations, intimidation and kidnaps being common, particularly in relation to conflict-related detainees. It is estimated that approximately 90% of conflicted-related detainees are being held without charge.
Media reporting in Libya has increasingly become polarised and caught up in the country’s conflict. It is difficult to get impartial factual reporting of events in Libya. There has also been an increase in targeted attacks on media outlets, and kidnappings, intimidation and assassinations of journalists. The privately-owned satellite TV station Al-Dawliya was overrun by Misratan Libya Dawn militiamen on 25 August, who ransacked offices and seized most of its equipment and files. The attack followed threats against the station and many of its employees, and came just days after two of its producers were kidnapped by the Janzour brigade (allies of Misratan forces based in the Janzour district of western Tripoli) on the night of 17 August. Another privately-owned TV station, Al-Assima, was attacked on 24 August, and the broadcasts of Al-Rasmiya and the state-owned TV station Al-Wataniya were stopped on 20 August at the behest of the Information Ministry. This decision was taken after Al-Wataniya was overrun by a Misrata-affiliated Islamist militia on 4 August.
There have also been high-profile murders involving journalists. Naseeb Miloud Karfana, a TV journalist based in the southern city of Sabha, was found murdered, with her throat cut, on 29 May. In relation to another high-profile case, the Libyan Centre for Press Freedom has urged the Libyan government to open an inquiry into the killing of Miftah Abu Zayd, the former editor of Birniq newspaper, in Benghazi in May 2013.
The UK is supporting two media projects in Libya which will help to address the lack of good quality, balanced and impartial reporting on events in Libya. The BBC Media Action News for All project – originally located in Libya but now temporarily based in Tunis – is carrying out editorial and production training with Libyan media practitioners, and is setting up a daily “pop up” news service in Arabic to provide regular news output for Libya. The UK is also funding the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) Al Maidan project in the creation of two media training labs in Tripoli and Zawiya universities. Critically, both BBC Media Action and IWPR are working with, and through, Libyan trainees and interns, to ensure that the outcomes of the projects prove as sustainable as possible.
UK Foreign and Commonwealth office
This article was originally published here.