Gender Based Violence and Abuse of Human Rights against Migrants in Libya: A Call for Urgent Global Intervention

Migrating from their home countries to another in search for a better “economic pasture” has been an intrinsic gesture in many African countries, due to huge infrastructural deficit, instability in government, slowing economy, increased youth unemployment and sometimes violence, many Africans are forced to leave their countries in search of a “greener pasture.” Sub-Saharan African immigrants living or traveling through Libya to Europe by sea consistently face attacks from Libyan coast guards, militia group, and smugglers e.t.c.

For more than a decade, African migrants in Libya have been regularly abused by soldiers, militia groups and gangs of youths. Since the year 2000, attack on migrants in Libya has followed a non-relenting pattern; thousands of migrants from Nigeria, Ghana, Chad, Gambia, and Sudan among other African nations have been subjected to brutal therapy in various migrants’ centres where they are kept after intercepting their ships/boats on the Libyan coast.

The intensity of global advocacy raised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch among other international organizations has gone a long way in exposing the horrific and inhuman treatments of migrants in Libya prior and after the fall of former Libyan leader, Gadafi. Reports and press statements from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International show that women are also victims of violence against migrants in Libya; they are subjected to incessant rape, oral sex, torture e.t.c.

According to the United Nations, 2.44 million people in Libya need protection and some form of humanitarian support, the International Organization for Migrants as of June 2016 also reported that roughly 425, 000 people were displaced in Libya. In a similar development, a report of the Human Rights Watch as of December 2015 documented arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment in four non-immigration prisons in Tripoli and Misrata.

Exposing the experiences of migrants in Libya, Human Right Watch Release disclosed accounts of some victims of sexual abuse in Libyan migrants’ centres:

“Nourah,” a 26-year-old Ivorian, said she was detained in June and July 2015 at a facility in Tajoura, on the eastern edge of Tripoli, because she did not have residence papers. A guard called Ibrahim repeatedly abused her sexually, she said:

“He didn’t have a thumb or index finger on his left hand, I remember very well. He would come to the room and roll his cigarette and smoke among us. It was a strange smell. He chose me. He took me, he had the condom in his hand. He made me give him oral sex. He came every night. Only Fridays he didn’t come.”

Nourah said other guards took women away and abused them sexually.

“There was a man who covered his face, he was the meanest,” she said. “He would come into our room, with three or four other men. They would come to choose the girls. One girl, an Eritrean named Amira, they chose her every time. Every time they came for her she would cry.”

“One day we tried to escape, going through a hole in the wall,” Nourah said. “Seven girls got away but they caught the rest of us. The guards stripped one of us, a Nigerian girl, and raped her in front of us in the courtyard.”

In another account in the Human Rights Watch Release, “Jabril from Gambia said that in 2015 Libyan forces twice intercepted boats he was on, and sent him back to Libya, where he was detained and abused. He spent six months detained in Subratha, and then another six months in Tripoli. In both places, Jabril said the guards routinely beat him and the other detainees: “If you are talking, they ask, ‘What are you saying? What are you saying? Stop.’ Then they beat you. Or they beat you when you’re sleeping.”

Similarly in the same report, a 31-year-old Gambian man who told Human Rights Watch that criminals had raped his wife said “In Libya, they do whatever they like because there’s no law, no nothing.” The records of these abuses are unending.

Since human rights are inherent prerogative that belong to every person as a consequence of being human, and also considering the fact that the seven international conventions (Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) – UDHR, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) – ICCPR, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) – ICESCR, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) – ICERD, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) – CEDAW, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) – CAT, Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) CRC, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990) – ICRMW) serve as strong instruments for protecting the rights of all persons, infringing on the rights of undocumented migrants, particularly in intra-continental context is improper and must be strongly condemned.

Undoubtedly, all of the seven human rights conventions, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, contain a number of rights that are applicable to undocumented migrants, as clearly spelled out in their consistent and respective non-discrimination clauses. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (UDHR) preamble and thirty articles conveyed human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all men and women across the world are entitled without any form of discrimination.

Specifically, article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) outlined rights which are applicable to all, including undocumented migrants.

Recognizing that human rights of undocumented migrants are articulated and protected within many conventions and treaties at regional and international context, these rights must be respected by all nations and governments. The severity of the abuse of human rights in Libya is overdue for sustained global intervention. At continental level, the African Union should make this a priority issue in its activities; the United Nations, European Union, American Government and other key players in the global scene must hold strong talks with Libyan authorities to end abuse on human rights of migrants in Libya.

Consistent attacks and abuse of other nationals (migrants) in Libya does not only threaten Africa’s unity, but the world at large. Urgent global attention must be channelled to this issue to ensure preservation of the rights of migrants, ensure peace and stability in the region.

(Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi is a writer/journalist, currently he serves as the Special Assistant-Media and Communication to the Chairman of House Committee on Justice, House of Representatives, National Assembly, Nigeria)

Olawale Rotimi
B.A, M.A Ilorin, DELF Paris.
T: @RotimiLawale
"You don't struggle to grow, grow the grass and the sheep will come, nurture it and they will never. Increase in quality not in quantity"

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Articles by Rotimi Olawale