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16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council - Follow-up to the 15th Special Session on the Situation of Human Rights in Libya

Statement by Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch welcomes the appointment of three high-level experts to the Commission of Inquiry for Libya and urges them to begin their investigations. Serious human rights violations are being committed in Libya, and they threaten to get much worse.

In eastern Libya, forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi have mounted a counter-offensive to retake opposition-controlled areas. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the potential for civilian casualties and retaliatory violence by Gaddafi's forces as they push towards rebel-held cities and towns.

Also in the east, stranded African migrant workers have been the victims of racist attacks, some by Libyans who believe the Africans fought as mercenaries for pro-Gaddafi forces. These migrant workers need international help with evacuation, and the de facto authorities in Benghazi should do what they can to safeguard vulnerable persons from attacks.

In Libya's west, the government has retaken the rebel-held town of Zawiya, with a heavy impact on civilians. International aid agencies have been unable to access the town.

In Tripoli, state security forces have launched a wave of arrests and disappearances that has gripped the city with fear. Pro-Gaddafi forces have arrested scores of anti-government protesters, suspected government critics, and those alleged to have provided information to journalists and human rights organizations. Some detainees have apparently been tortured. The Libyan government has not released any information on the number or location of those detained, or the charges they face, if any.

The international media has faced a growing crackdown on its work by pro-government security forces, including detentions and the beating of two reporters from the BBC. One correspondent from the Guardian newspaper remains in state custody. On March 12 a cameraman from Al Jazeera was shot and killed near Benghazi in an apparent ambush, after an aggressive media campaign against the broadcaster by the Libyan government. The Libyan government has blocked foreign journalists from visiting parts of Tripoli, as well as nearby areas where clashes between opposition and government forces have taken place.

People seeking to flee the fighting in the West have apparently been blocked from leaving Libya and entering Tunisia since the government reassumed control of the border on March 3. Thousands of migrant workers, many from Ghana and Nigeria, have been trapped at the Tripoli airport with no international aid.

Finally, international aid agencies have been unable to access the violence-stricken areas of western Libya. They cannot conduct assessments or deliver much needed supplies. These organizations require access now.

These serious human rights challenges justify the continued attention of this Council. The Commission of Inquiry will play a key role in investigating violations and setting the stage for investigations by the International Criminal Court.

Thank you.

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