The “overwhelming majority” of women and older girls who passed through Libya as migrants reported being gang-raped by traffickers or witnessed others taken away to be abused, according to a UN report based on hundreds of interviews.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement published on Thursday that its report, along with the United Nations support mission in Libya, turned up “unimaginable horrors” among migrants who sought to reach Europe through the largely lawless country.
The 61-page report covers the period between January 2017 to August 2018.
The OHCHR said investigators pulled together 1,300 first-hand accounts detailing “a terrible litany of violations and abuses committed by a range of state officials, armed groups, smugglers and traffickers against migrants and refugees”.
Those included unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention, gang rape, slavery, forced labour and extortion.
“The UN staff visiting 11 detention centres [in Libya], where thousands of migrants and refugees are being held, documented torture, ill-treatment, forced labour, and rape by the guards, and reported that women are often held in facilities without female guards, exacerbating the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation,” OHCHR said.
“Female detainees are often subjected to strip searches carried out or watched by male guards.”
The African Union said in December there were an estimated 400,000 to 700,000 migrants in more than 40 detention camps across Libya, many in inhumane conditions.
“Many people are held in unofficial and illegal centres run directly by armed groups or criminal gangs. They are frequently sold from one criminal group to another and required to pay multiple ransoms,” OHCHR said.
The European Union is spending approximately $200m in Libya to deter migrants from making the journeys, in which thousands have already drowned, including more than 1,000 people so far this year alone.
The EU funds have been spent to recruit and train the Libyan coast guards and equip them with communications, rescue equipment, boats and vehicles.
“There is a local and international failure to handle this hidden human calamity that continues to take place in Libya,” Ghassan Salame, special representative of the secretary-general and head of UN’s Support Mission in Libya, was quoted as saying in Thursday’s statement.