UN experts seek to verify mass graves for migrants in Libya

CAIRO (AP) — Investigators commissioned by the U.N.’s top human rights body on Wednesday painted a grim picture for migrants in Libya, just days after saying they were looking into claims that mass graves have been found at a human trafficking center in the country’s northwest.

Chief investigator Mohamed Auajjar, a former Moroccan justice minister, said the team of investigators had documented “consistent patterns of serious human rights violations” against migrants in government-run detention centers and trafficking hubs.

Libya has in recent years emerged as a popular, if extremely dangerous, route toward Europe for those fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East. The North African nation plunged into turmoil following the NATO-backed 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

In the northwestern town of Bani Walid, the fact-finding experts commissioned by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council found that “migrants were held captive, murdered, tortured and raped.”

In interim findings presented to the council this week, the investigators said at least eight migrants had spoken about mass graves in the town, something the investigators said they needed to verify.

Speaking to The Associated Press on the sidelines of the council session in Geneva, Auajjar said his office “received information about other sites as well, where there may be mass graves, but the investigations are ongoing.”

Auajjar said his team of about 15 investigators, based out of the Tunisian capital of Tunis, are going over all of the cases and vetting the information received.

“We receive a lot of information from NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and authorities, and we want to check them — with ethics and rigor,” he said.

Alluding to the council’s next session, when his office will present a full written report, Auajjar said: “In June, we will be able to announce concrete results and if necessary, if we have the necessary evidence, we will name those responsible for these claims.”

He told the council earlier that investigators were also examining the existence of secret detention facilities including some controlled by armed militias.

In the report, investigators said they continued to receive reports of detainees “being threatened with sexual violence against them or their relatives, being stripped naked for prolonged periods of time or subjected to intrusive body search amounting to rape.”

Also Wednesday, Germany said that its military will no longer provide training to Libya’s coast guard because of concerns over its treatment of migrants. The Libyan coast guard has been trained and equipped by the European Union as part of efforts to stanch the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean,

The investigators said in an October report that they had evidence of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Libya. Many of the alleged crimes, they say, were committed against civilians and migrants detained in the country while trying to get to Europe.

The investigators also said that the Libyan coast guard has mistreated migrants and handed some over to detention centers where there is widespread torture and sexual violence. A confidential report by the head of Operation Irini, obtained earlier this year by the AP, acknowledged “excessive use of force” by the coast guard but called for European training programs to continue, despite longtime outcry from right groups.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants hoping to reach Europe have made their way in recent years through Libya, where a lucrative trafficking and smuggling business has flourished.

The country has been without a functioning government and fragmented for years between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in the oil-rich nation, smuggling migrants through the country’s lengthy border with six nations. They pack desperate migrants into ill-equipped rubber boats, then embark on risky voyages across the Mediterranean Sea.

Many of those who have been intercepted and returned to Libya — including women and children — are held in government-run detention centers where they suffer from abuse, including torture, rape and extortion, according to rights groups.

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Keaten reported from Geneva. Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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