(by Valentina Bianco)
NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 8 – Escalating sexual violence and other human rights violations in Libya have prompted Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, to launch an appeal to Libyan authorities and the international community to take action in mitigating the catastrophic situation faced by fleeing and detained migrants.
“I am gravely concerned regarding the situation of migrants in Libya where women and girls, but also men and boys, face grave human rights violations, including conflict-related sexual violence committed by parties to the Libyan conflict, smugglers, traffickers and other criminal groups” Bangura said.
The power vacuum left by the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 effectively transformed Libya’s coast into an unregulated border attracting unprecedented migratory flows, fleeing extremist regimes and poverty from across Africa, as well as lucrative smuggling networks promising safe passage to Europe.
But safety has been eluding the weakest of the weak; the sea route to Europe is deadly. Out of the 180,000 migrants who arrived in Italy last year, more than 4,000 died or went missing in the crossing. And those who remain stranded in Libya “face risks and incidents of sexual violence when being held for days, weeks or months in official and unofficial detention centers”, Bangura explains.
In her appeal, Bangura also denounces further concern about the “systemic use of sexual violence” by Libyan extremist groups affiliated to ISIL. Women and children who survived the seven-month long UN-backed campaign that recently reclaimed the city of Sirte from ISIL, have given accounts of “patterns of rape and sexual slavery, particularly against migrants,” she said. Tragically, sexual violence has been used by terrorist groups to strike fear among civilians and recruit fighters to advance their political aims and human trafficking has become an important source of revenue. Ameena Hasan, civilian activist for Yazidi women’s rights, said ISIL has abducted more than 6,000 women and children and sold them in slave markets.
Bangura’s call to Lybian authorities and the international community is loud and clear. There is an urgent need to review Libya’s migration policy and curb the risk of sexual violence in detention centers; Security Council resolution 2331 (2016) on human trafficking and the use of conflict-related sexual violence must be fully implemented, ensuring that those who escape ISIL captivity be treated as victims of terrorism and as such be granted access to reparations; survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Libya must have access to justice and to medical and psycho-social aid and, legal frameworks must be strengthened to prosecute all perpetrators of such atrocities.
Bangura concludes by reiterating the recommendation of the Secretary General “that all countries give due consideration to recognizing conflict-related sexual violence as a form of persecution that may ground refugee-status, in light of its use as a tactic to induce displacement”.