OHCHR | UNHCR Appeal to al Qaeda to Permit them to Resume Operations in Tripoli

Editorial Comment:

What is noteworthy about this report is that the UN do not appeal to any legitimate official government body, but to al Qaeda militias, acknowleding them as the sole authority in Tripoli.

Why then are trials for Libya’s political prisoners being held in al Qaeda territory?

Rupert Colville, for the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR), said OHCHR was alarmed by the escalating violence in Libya with reports of increased human rights abuses, beheadings of activists and the recent closure of the country’s national human rights institution in Tripoli. The dramatic increase in use of car bombs in the last few days, with civilians the main victims, illustrated the rapidly deteriorating security and human rights situation in the country. Over the last week alone, there were two explosions in Shahhat, three each in Tobruk, al-Baida and Benghazi, and two in Tripoli, causing several deaths and injuries.

OHCHR was very concerned about the continuing threats, intimidation and other repressive measures being taken against Libya’s national human rights institution, the National Council of Civil Liberties and Human Rights. Mr. Colville said in mid-October, a group of armed men visited the Council, and demanded the hand-over of keys to the premises and the organization’s official stamps. In a separate incident, armed men also sought to question a number of senior Council members, including the current General Secretary. On 21 October, when United Nations human rights officers visited the building during a visit to Tripoli, they found it deserted.

Last Sunday, 9 November, armed men in military uniform arrived at the Council, led by a man known for his support for Operation Libya Dawn. According to an eyewitness, the group locked the building and told passers-by that the Council was being shut down by Libya Dawn, and anybody attempting to re-open the Council would be arrested.

OHCHR urged those in control of Tripoli to ensure that the office premises of the Council were immediately re-opened and that that key institution was allowed to resume its work without any form of intimidation or obstruction, said Mr. Colville. The United Nations Human Rights Office stressed the importance of allowing the Council to function smoothly and independently at a time when Libyans were facing serious human rights violations, and the need for independent monitoring in the country was critical.

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), briefed on new displacement in the east, south and west of Libya. He said that intense fighting among rival armed groups in Libya’s eastern towns of Benghazi and Derna, as well as in the country’s southeast at Ubari and in the west at Kikla, was fuelling a displacement crisis. At least 106,420 people had fled their homes in the past month alone, meaning that displacement amid the violence since May now exceeded 393,400 people.

Insecurity meanwhile was hampering humanitarian operations, reported Mr. Edwards. Aid agencies were still trying to calculate the true scale of internal displacement. UNHCR had confirmed reports from its non-governmental organization partners that 56,500 people had fled Benghazi in the past few weeks, including 2,500 Tawerghans who had previously sought shelter there fleeing earlier waves of violence in 2011. Still more people had fled from Derna, some 170 km from Tobruk, though UNHCR could not yet confirm how many. Local crisis committees in the south-east of the country confirmed some 11,280 people had fled fighting in Ubari, while in the west civilian groups reported 38,640 people had been displaced by fighting in Kikla, including many women and children.

Libya’s displaced were scattered across 35 towns and cities, and were in dire need of shelter, health care, food, water and other basic commodities, said Mr. Edwards. The fighting had been fiercest in Benghazi, from where people had fled to the nearby towns of Al Marj, Ajdabiya, Al Bayda, and Misrata. Those towns were now reaching the limits of what they could do to help the displaced. Al Marj had had to close its schools to accommodate people unable to stay with host families. Al Bayda and Tobruk were also straining to house the rising tide of displaced people seeking shelter there, from Derna as well as Benghazi. Schools in Tobruk would also be closed so they could host the displaced people, added Mr. Edwards.

The situation of some 2,500 Tawerghans who fled their camp in Benghazi in mid-October was of particular concern to UNHCR, as they were now staying in parks, schools and parking lots in Ajdabiya and neighbouring towns, with only thin plastic sheets and some tents for cover, said Mr. Edwards.

Winds and rains over the coming winter months would be hardest on women, children and the elderly who lack warm clothes, heaters and insulated tents and shelters, Mr. Edwards informed the press. Cross border aid convoys were the only way to get in supplies. While UNHCR and its partners had delivered aid to some 19,000 displaced people through cross-border convoys in August and September, funding and access were constraints.

UNHCR was also concerned about the welfare of some 14,000 of the 37,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers, almost half of whom were from Syria, in Libya who were stranded in conflict zones or unable to provide food for themselves and their families. During times of conflict, refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants were often viewed with suspicion and suffered from widespread animosity towards all foreigners. With no alternatives, many had irregularly departed by boats to Europe. So far this year, more than 156,000 have arrived in Italy – over 85 per cent departing from Libya, said Mr. Edwards.

UNHCR released yesterday its latest position paper on returns to Libya, which called on all countries to allow civilians fleeing Libya access to their territories, and urged all States to suspend forcible returns to Libya until the security and human rights situation had improved considerably. The paper was available via a link in the briefing note, noted Mr. Edwards.

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said the United Nations Security Council issued a press statement last night in which it condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist bomb attacks against the Embassies of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in Tripoli on Thursday 13 November.