International Criminal Court calls for access to Libyan detention centres

ICC looks to investigate reported abuses in Libya's prisons

Men sit in rows during the release of 78 inmates arrested during the attack on the city of Tripoli and currently held in the Reform and Rehabilitation Institution, in Tripoli on May 12, 2021. A total of 78 prisoners who had fought with eastern Libya strongman Khalifa Haftar during his offensive against the capital Tripoli were released on the evening of May 12. The detainees were released after a ceremony held in the Jedaida prison in Tripoli in the presence of several officials including Justice Minister Halima Ibrahim Abderrahmane. / AFP / Mahmud TURKIA

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on Monday called for full access to all Libyan detention centres after reports of rampant and severe human rights breaches.

“We continue to receive concerning information about ongoing crimes ranging from disappearance and arbitrary detention to murder, torture and sexual and gender-based violence,” Ms Bensouda told the UN Security Council.

She was giving her semi-annual briefing on Libya, which was the 21st report since the ICC began investigating war crimes in the country.

“We have collected credible information and evidence on serious crimes allegedly committed in official and unofficial detention facilities in Libya,” Ms Bensouda said.

UN peacekeeping forces report there are more than 8,850 people “arbitrarily detained” at 28 official prisons in Libya and 10,000 people, including about 480 women and 63 minors, in detention centres run by militias.

“I reiterate the critical importance for international observers and investigators to be given full access to all detention facilities in Libya and to receive full co-operation in this regard,” Ms Bensouda said.

"I urge the Government of National Unity to take urgent steps to put an end to the crimes committed in detention centres and to fully investigate allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, confiscation of property, rape and other forms of sexual violence, including in prisons and detention facilities.”

Ms Bensouda told of a prison in Mitiga controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia formed in Tripoli, and other sites.

“These crimes, which include torture, sexual violence, inhumane treatment and arbitrary detention have been reported for years, but regrettably, to date, the perpetrators have not been held accountable,” she said.

“Further credible reports detail the summary conviction and sentencing of civilians to long prison sentences, including handing [down] of the death penalty by military courts in eastern Libya, following secret trials devoid of fair-trial guarantees.

“I urge all parties to the conflict in Libya to immediately put an end to the use of detention facilities to mistreat and commit crimes against civilians and persons."

Ms Bensouda also said the court had “received concerning information about the activities of mercenaries and foreign fighters in Libya".

She said foreign fighters and mercenaries who committed crimes in Libyan territory “may fall under the jurisdiction of the court, no matter the nationalities involved".

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a report on Friday that foreign fighters remained in Libya despite agreeing to depart as part of last year's truce that led to the formation of the Government of National Unity, with elections scheduled for December.

Detention centres and foreign fighters aside, Ms Bensouda spoke of Libyan militias' use of violence to silence critics, incuding the assassination of Hanan Al Barassi, a lawyer killed by masked gunmen in Benghazi in November.

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