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UN investigates reports of migrant mass graves in Libya

UN investigators are seeking to verify reports of mass graves thought to contain the corpses of migrants at a trafficking hub in Libya, they said in a report on Monday that also documented incidents of rape, murder and torture.

Libya is a major transit point for Africans seeking to make the perilous journey to Europe across the Mediterranean but many instead find themselves enslaved by militias and traffickers or forced into prostitution.

Several migrants told the UN Fact-Finding Mission that there were “mass graves” in the desert city of Bani Walid, with one testifying that he had buried three people there in one of them.

The report did not say how many bodies the graves might contain and mission member Chaloka Beyani said a newly appointed forensic expert would try to investigate further.

Several women from east Africa also testified that they had been raped and sexually abused.

“If migrants who were kept there heard the word Bani Walid, she or he would start crying. They set fire to and burn women’s breasts and vaginas there,” a female migrant told investigators this month in comments printed in the 18-page report that will be presented to Geneva’s Human Rights Council this week.

Another Sudanese migrant in Sebha told the UN team that he was set alight after his family did not pay a ransom. He later died from his injuries.

The mission’s report, the second of three based on some 120 interviews between October and March, also flagged violations affecting the country’s democratic transition such as intimidation of activists and raised concerns about secret prisons allegedly run by rival armed militias.

Libya has been in turmoil for a decade following a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. A comparative lull in east-west fighting has set in since 2020 but U.N.-backed efforts to organise elections as part of a peace process collapsed in December, intensifying a political crisis.

Chaloka Beyani, one of the mission’s three members, described the situation for migrants in Libya as “very, very dire” and called for technical assistance to help Libya hold the perpetrators accountable.

The mission is seeking a prolongation of its work beyond the end of June when its final report is due.

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