UN alarmed about detention, abuse of Egyptians in Libya

By ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: June 16, 2020

CAIRO — The United Nations raised the alarm Tuesday about the detention and mistreatment of a large group of Egyptian citizens in Libya, in possible violation of international law.

Graphic footage has surfaced on social media in recent days that purportedly shows militias allied with Libya's U.N.-supported government abusing scores of Egyptian migrant workers captured in the western city of Tarhuna.

Egypt has supported east-based military commander Khalifa Hifter against the forces of the U.N.-supported government, based in the capital, Tripoli.

The U.N. Mission in Libya said the mistreatment runs counter to Libya's "human rights law obligations on the prohibition of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment."

The Tripoli-based Interior Ministry issued a statement vowing to investigate the "criminal act" and arrest the perpetrators.

In Egypt, where the videos have sparked widespread outrage, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal warned that the government would "determine the time and place of its response."

Tens of thousands of Egyptians have sought work in neighboring Libya, although the number has declined since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi.

In the years of conflict that ensued, Libya has become divided between west and east, with the U.N.-supported government based in Tripoli, in the west. Hifter, whose forces have suffered a series of defeats in the last few weeks, is based in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Following the collapse of Hifter's 14-month campaign to capture the capital, Turkish-backed militias allied with the Tripoli government pushed his fighters out of Tarhuna, their final stronghold in western Libya, 65 kilometers (41 miles) southeast of Tripoli.

As the town changed hands, both sides faced scrutiny over extensive human rights abuses. The U.N.-supported government announced that dozens of bodies had been uncovered in several mass graves in the city, and accused a Hifter-allied militia of carrying out the killings. In a press conference on Tuesday, Faisal Jawal, representative of the Libyan Red Crescent, said his teams were working to identify another 106 dead bodies discovered in a Tarhuna hospital, among them women and children.

Tripoli fighters allegedly took revenge on Hifter's allies by looting stores and destroying property across the town, according to the U.N., as well as capturing a number of Egyptian migrant workers and subjecting them to "degrading treatment."

Along with Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates support Hifter's forces in the larger regional proxy war against the Turkish-backed Tripoli government, which is also assisted by Qatar and Italy.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced a unilateral initiative to end the civil war earlier this month, a bid to stop the momentum of Tripoli forces, which are now trying to recapture the key coastal city of Sirte.

In a conversation with the Tripoli government's foreign minister on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland said that alleged human rights abuses "perpetrated with impunity" by both parties in war-torn Libya "shock the conscience and require immediate and thorough investigation."