UN rights chief denounces violence against journalists by Libyan forces
The top United Nations human rights official today condemned the detention and possible torture of three journalists working for the British Broadcasting Corporation by Libyan security forces, stressing that the media must be allowed access to report what is happening inside the country.
The three were trying to cover the situation in the western city of Zawiya when they were detained and reportedly beaten and subjected to mock executions by members of the Libyan army and secret police.
“Journalists take great risks to ensure that an accurate picture of what is happening in conflict zones emerges,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “They play an extremely important role in bringing human rights violations to light. In this case, the crew’s own experience provides a graphic example of the types of violations that are being committed in Libya.”
The North African nation has been in turmoil since mid-February when protesters took to the streets demanding the ouster of long-time leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi. The ensuing violence has caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, with most crossing over into neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.
Ms. Pillay said that for a news team to be targeted, detained and treated with such cruelty, which she said could amount to torture, is “completely unacceptable” and in serious violation of international law.
“If an international television crew can be subjected to this type of treatment, it makes me extremely concerned about the treatment that is most likely being meted out to Libyan opponents of the regime who have fallen into the hands of the security services,” she stated.
“The media must be allowed access to report what is happening in Libya, without facing either restrictions, intimidation or violence.”
She noted that the journalists had reportedly observed terrible conditions in the detention centre where they were held, “including clear signs that other detainees had been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” She also voiced concern about reported aerial bombardment of civilians and the use of military grade weapons and tanks on city streets, as well as accounts of summary executions, rapes and disappearances in the country.
The High Commissioner reminded security personnel that they will be held accountable for their actions. “Be warned: whether you are ordering torture or carrying out the orders, you will be held personally criminally responsible,” she said.
Briefing Member States at UN Headquarters in New York on the latest situation in Libya, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Catherine Bragg noted that the number of those fleeing the country had now reached almost 250,000. “Humanitarian agencies are working tirelessly to avoid bottlenecks at the borders and to ensure that those waiting in transit camps do so in a dignified manner and receive adequate assistance,” she said.
But she warned of possible outbreaks of acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea among people stranded at the Saloum border in Egypt as many are still sleeping outside in cold conditions. In eastern Libya, an inter-agency mission led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which travelled to Benghazi from 2 to 5 March, reported that there were few critical humanitarian needs at that time.
“However, while medical facilities reportedly have the capacity to respond to health needs in the area, they are facing shortages of medical supplies, drugs and specialized medical staff, as many are foreign personnel who left the country,” she said, adding the UN World Health Organization (WHO) is procuring drugs and medical supplies for hospitals and health facilities in Benghazi to dealing with the influx of wounded from the fighting.
Meanwhile Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy to Libya Abdul Elah al-Khatib and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, Rashid Khalikov, will travel to Tripoli, the capital where Mr. Qadhafi is based, possibly this weekend as agreed by Libya’s Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, Ms. Bragg said.
Some $36 million has so far been contributed to the $160-million appeal that the UN and its partners launched on Monday to fund the activities of 17 aid groups in assisting people who have fled and for other affected people within Libya for the next three months, covering areas such as food security, nutrition, health care, water and sanitation and shelter.