‘Slavery, rape, torture’: Libya threatened by foreign fighters, says UN report

TRIPOLI— Libya faces a serious security threat from foreign fighters and private military companies, especially Russia’s Wagner Group which has violated international law.

In a United Nations report, experts also accused seven Libyan armed groups of systematically using unlawful detention to punish perceived opponents, ignoring international and domestic civil rights laws including ones prohibiting torture.

In particular, “migrants have been extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses and regularly subjected to acts of slavery, rape and torture”, the panel said in the report to the UN Security Council.

The oil-rich North African nation plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled strongman Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed.

It then got divided between rival governments – one in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-recognised administration in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.

The report said Chadian opposition groups operate from Libya and Sudanese fighters have been recruited by Haftar.

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have been seen by the panel in government military camps in Tripoli while Haftar-affiliated Syrian fighters operate alongside Russia’s Wagner Group fighters in the strategic northern city of Sirte and nearby Jufra. At least 300 of these Syrians have returned home and have not been replaced by Haftar, the report said.

The panel said it continues to investigate the deployment of Wagner fighters and the transfers of arms and related materiel to support its operations.

In April 2019, Haftar and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support for the UN-recognised government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.

An October 2020 ceasefire deal led to an agreement on a transitional government in early February 2021 and elections were scheduled for last December 24 aimed at unifying the country. But they were cancelled and the country now has rival governments with two Libyans claiming to be the prime minister.

The ceasefire agreement called for the speedy withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries but the panel said “there has been little verifiable evidence of any large-scale withdrawals taking place to date”.

The Wagner Group passes itself off as a private military contractor and the Kremlin denies any connection to it. But the United States identifies Wagner’s financer as Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.


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