Migrants detained in Libya face horrific abuse, with women especially facing sexual violence, and often forced to submit to rape in exchange for food, UN investigators said Wednesday.
In a fresh report, the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya reiterated that the worst crimes under international law were likely being committed in the war-ravaged country, with migrant women suffering some of the worst abuse.
“The mission has reasonable grounds to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder, torture, imprisonment, rape, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts have been committed in several places of detention in Libya since 2016,” it said.
Migrants are routinely detained by authorities, human traffickers and others in Libya — a key departure point for tens of thousands of people mainly from sub-Saharan Africa hoping to reach Europe.
Human traffickers have profited from the chaos that has raged since the 2011 toppling and killing of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Talks between rival Libyan governments are being held in Geneva this week over the rules for long-awaited elections, with an aim to end the chaos.
The fact-finding mission report, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council next week, said it had gathered broad evidence of “the systematic use of prolonged arbitrary detention” of migrants in Libya.
The investigators, who made several trips to Libya, described how migrants in detention face “acts of murder, torture, rape and other inhumane acts.”
The report highlighted “sexual violence at the hands of traffickers and smugglers, often with the aim of extorting families.”
“The mission has also documented cases of rape in places of detention or captivity whereby migrant women are forced to have sex in order to survive, in exchange for food or other essential items,” it said.
In fact, the known risk of sexual violence is considered too great, the report said, that “some migrant women and girls get fitted with a contraceptive implant before traveling there to avoid unwanted pregnancy due to such violence.”
The investigators relayed some heartbreaking stories heard from migrants in Libya.
One woman, who was held in the northern town of Ajdabiya, “described how her captors demanded sex in exchange for access to water she direly needed to wash her six-month-old sick child’s soiled clothes,” the report said.
“I let them rape me. I had no choice. It was for my daughter. I could not leave her like that,” she said, according to the report.
The fact-finding mission, which was created by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020, will see its mandate expire in a few days.
But a group of African countries has presented a draft resolution to the council that would allow it to continue its work for another nine months.
Meanwhile, a flimsy rubber boat collapsed and sank in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya’s coast, leaving at least 30 people including women and children missing and feared dead, an international charity said Wednesday.
The vessel sank in the deadly central Mediterranean Sea route, said Doctors Without Borders, also known by its abbreviation MSF for the French name of the group.
A rescue ship operated by MSF reached the boat, and managed to rescue dozens of other migrants including some women. A pregnant woman died on board the rescue ship, Geo Barents, it said.
Among the rescued migrants from Monday’s boat sinking was a woman who lost her child in the sinking and another one who said she lost two children, the charity said.
The charity has called for Italian and Maltese authorities to determine a port of safety to allow the disembarkation of survivors.