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(Tunis) – Armed groups, some affiliated with rival governments vying for legitimacy and territorial control, detained, tortured, “disappeared,” and unlawfully killed people with impunity in Libya during 2016, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017

Members of the Libyan National Army, the armed forces allied with the Interim Government in al-Bayda, during clashes with the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, an Islamist militia alliance, in Benghazi on April 1, 2015.  © 2015 Stringer/Reuters

The ongoing warfare created a humanitarian crisis. Nearly 500,000 people are internally displaced, the economy and judicial system have collapsed, and hundreds of thousands of foreign migrants and asylum-seekers risk harsh detention and torture as they transit through Libya in the hope of reaching Europe. Although weakened, Islamist militants, including fighters who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), continue to control territory and commit abuses.

“Abuses by armed groups in Libya have gone unchecked for the past five years as warlords grow stronger while living conditions for ordinary civilians deteriorate,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While there is no magic for Libya, countries supportive of parties to the internal conflict need to cut off aid to those responsible for abuses and impose sanctions on them.”

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

Six years after the 2011 Libyan revolt against the strongman Muammar Gaddafi, militias and armed forces affiliated with the governments in the country’s east and west engaged in arbitrary detention, torture, unlawful killings, and indiscriminate attacks. The security vacuum led to politically motivated abductions as well as kidnappings for profit of politicians, journalists, and ordinary civilians, including children.

In Benghazi, a total of 24 people were found tortured and killed in two separate incidents, in July and October, in areas under the control of the so-called Libyan National Army, which is affiliated with the interim government in eastern Libya. In Tripoli, unidentified armed groups killed 12 detainees when they were conditionally released from al-Baraka prison in Tripoli, in June. The families reportedly said that the bodies were found in various locations around Tripoli.

The clashes between various militias were most intense in Benghazi, Tripoli, Sebha, and Sirte. In Benghazi several hundred civilians remained trapped since 2014 in the Ganfouda neighborhood, which was held by Islamist militants and besieged by the Libyan National Army forces.

Thousands of people, including some women and children, most of them suspected of being former Gaddafi supporters, have been in arbitrary detention for long periods without charges or due process. Guards and militia members have mistreated and tortured detainees with impunity. Detaining authorities should release all those held in arbitrary detention, Human Rights Watch said.

Prospects for accountability remained slim, as the domestic criminal justice system did not function in parts of the country, and the International Criminal Court, despite having jurisdiction over Libya, failed to open any new investigation into ongoing crimes.

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