A UN human rights expert is urging Libyan authorities to ensure the safety of hundreds of former residents of the northern town of Tawergha, “who are stranded and even dying in the desert despite an agreement allowing their safe return.”
The group, who were due to return to Libya on February 1 under an agreement with the neighbouring city of Misrata, have been barred from entry and harassed by militias.
The entire population of around 40,000 people was forcibly evacuated in 2011 as collective punishment for their perceived support for deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Special Rapporteur Cecilia Jimenez-Damary says in a Tuesday statement she was “appalled” at the situation, in which “two men have died already following strokes, possibly as a result of the harsh weather conditions.”
Libya has been wracked by violence and divisions since Ghaddafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.
Earlier this month, a Libyan militia chief wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes handed himself over to the eastern authority’s military police on Wednesday, leading to riots by supporters in Benghazi.
Mahmoud al-Werfalli is allegedly responsible for summarily executing a number of prisoners of war in recent months. The ICC has called for him to be handed over to The Hague to stand trial for the alleged war crimes.
Werfalli rejected previous demands by the ICC to surrender himself to The Hague after an arrest warrant was issued last August.
He was reportedly arrested by Haftar’s Libyan National Army militia in August but days later the ICC chief prosecutor said he was still at large.
Werfalli headed the Libyan National Army’s special forces unit, which has been held responsible for the kidnapping and murder of a number of civilians and prisoners of war.
Dozens of bodies have been found in areas of eastern Libya controlled by the militia, showing signs of torture and summarily executed.