Enforced Disappearances, Arbitrary Detentions, Hate Speech & Attacks on Civilians – ICC Report on Libya

Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), briefs Security Council members during the open video conference in connection with the International Criminal Court and the situation in Libya. Courtesy: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, May 6 2020 – The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday highlighted crimes against humanity and grave mismanagement of the law in Libya during a release of their latest report on the North African nation. 

Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, said enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, hate speech, and severe maltreatment of detainees remains a massive concern in the country that’s been caught in a civil war since 2014 with administrations in its capital Tripoli pitted against Benghazi. 

Bensouda warned of serious violence due to armed conflict in the region, resulting in a large volume of civilian casualties from air-strikes and shelling operations. She also called on “serious and urgent reforms” regarding the prison situation across the country.

“Arbitrary detention and serious mistreatment of detainees affects not only migrants and refugees but also thousands of other people detained in prisons and detention centres across Libya,” she said during the May 5 virtual briefing.

“Many people are detained without lawful basis or denied their fundamental procedural rights,” she said. 

Furthermore, those detained – many of whom are women and children – are put at risk for abuse such as murder, torture rape and other forms of sexual violence, she said. 

This is further strengthened by testimony from formal detainees who have claimed they were subject to “brutal methods of torture”.  

Many have died after being subject to torture and not being given access to timely medical care. 

She also noted that, “derogatory and dehumanising language” have permeated both traditional and social media. 

“This is cause for concern,” she said. “This type of language generates both hatred and fear in the community and deepens divisions within society. It sows the seeds of crimes against targeted groups of individuals and foments conditions in which mass atrocity crime can occur.”

“Leaders and prominent members of the community have a special responsibility to lead by example to refrain from hate speech,” she added. “Anyone who incites fear, hatred and division in the community causes harm not only to those targeted but also to society as a whole.”

Shortly following the ICC’s briefing on Tuesday, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said the U.N. Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) “remains concerned at the continued fighting in the country and reiterates its call for a cessation of hostilities during the holy month of Ramadan”. 

Dujarric added that the UNSMIL’s acting special representative Stephanie Williams remains engaged in outreach efforts with mediators as well as other international partners, including those involved with the Berlin Conference, in order to ensure that Libya can return to proper political process. The main objectives of the Berlin Conference, held in January, was to find consensus among concerned member states on the Libyan crisis.  

“It’s important that all the parties involved, whether Libyan or those who have influence over those parties, move in the same direction, and that is towards political talks,” Dujarric told the Associated Press at the briefing. 

The report came a little after the first anniversary since the Libyan National Army (LNA), a rebel group led by defected general Khalifa Haftar, orchestrated an attack to seize the Libyan capital Tripoli from the U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).  

Since the coronavirus pandemic has become a priority for governments around the world, experts fear this may be putting the crisis in Libya on the backseat of international diplomacy and in turn giving way for the crisis to continue, according to recent analysis by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). 

“As European officials shy away from the Libyan dossier to tackle the pandemic at home, there are concerns that efforts to secure a political solution to the conflict will be severely weakened,” ACLED said in an analysis shared in April.  

At the end of March, the Secretary-General had appealed for a global ceasefire in all conflict areas as communities — especially those who are in transit or in conflict — are at graver, more complicated risks of the coronavirus. 

Over a month later, Haftar announced a “truce” as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began. However, GNA forces reportedly said they would not adhere to this temporary ceasefire as they did not trust him to keep his word.

On Tuesday, as the report was being released, Al Jazeera reported an attack by the GNA on an airbase under the control of Haftar’s leadership, ensuing in heavy fire exchange between forces on both sides. The airbase was reportedly a key facility that was used to attack GNA forces, according to the report.

Polio, Measles Outbreaks ‘Inevitable’, Say Vaccine Experts

A young boy in Pakistan receives an oral polio vaccine (OPV). Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Laura Mackenzie
May 6 2020 – Interruptions to vaccination programmes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could result in new waves of measles or polio outbreaks, health experts warn.

A growing number of one-off immunisation campaigns and national routine vaccine introductions are being delayed amid social distancing and other measures to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, leaving millions unprotected.

With both preventive campaigns and routine immunisations impacted, “we’ll have an increasing number of children who will become susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases and that will definitely lead to outbreaks”,

Richard Mihigo
World Health Organization’s Africa office
Uptake of routine immunisations has dropped in many vulnerable countries, with people unable or unwilling to travel to sessions — something that was also observed during the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

With both preventive campaigns and routine immunisations impacted, “we’ll have an increasing number of children who will become susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases and that will definitely lead to outbreaks”, says Richard Mihigo, programme manager for immunisation and vaccines development at the World Health Organization’s Africa office.

Coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, “such outbreaks will not receive the same attention as in normal times”, he adds.

“We saw this during the [2013-2016] Ebola outbreak in West Africa, where we had an outbreak of measles at the same time. And recently we’ve seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo that an ongoing outbreak of measles has killed more people than the ongoing outbreak of Ebola. But all attention was on Ebola.”

Following the WHO’s recommendation last month that all mass vaccination campaigns should be suspended in response to COVID-19, Mihigo says mass preventive campaigns — which help to fill in the gaps in places with weak routine immunisation — had been put on hold in almost all African countries, while campaigns to target existing outbreaks are being considered on a case-by-case basis.

Those halted include preventive measles campaigns in Chad, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Sudan, as well as in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 6000 people have died since last year in the DRC in what is currently the world’s largest measles outbreak. These campaigns alone had aimed to reach 21.2 million children under the age of five, Mihigo says.

Meanwhile Gavi, the global Vaccine Alliance, which vaccinates almost half of the world’s children, announced earlier this month that 14 major immunisation campaigns supported by the alliance had been postponed, along with four national routine vaccine introductions.

These delays, which impact campaigns against polio, measles, cholera, human papillomavirus (HPV), yellow fever and meningitis, have affected at least 13.5 million people in 13 of the world’s least-developed countries, the alliance says, cautioning that many more delays are expected. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which partners with Gavi and the WHO, has also recommended that all polio vaccination campaigns be paused worldwide.

Countries with fragile health systems and ongoing conflicts — many of which are yet to feel the full impact of the novel coronavirus — are most at risk, says Charlie Weller, head of vaccines programme at the Wellcome Trust.

She too highlights the DRC, where Ebola has struck in areas of active conflict, as a country particularly at risk: “The impact to their health system and how they will be able to manage through and beyond COVID-19 is a very big concern.”

Gavi chief executive, Seth Berkley, warns that the international community needs to act to prevent potentially devastating outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

“The legacy of COVID-19 must not include the global resurgence of other killers like measles and polio,” he says.

However, some experts believe that a rise in cases of vaccine-preventable diseases are inevitable.

When vaccination coverage goes down, inevitably more outbreaks will occur, including of life-threatening diseases like measles and polio, WHO deputy director-general Zsuzsanna Jakab says.

WHO spokesperson for polio eradication Oliver Rosenbauer says that although temporarily halting polio vaccination campaigns was the “only recommendation to make under this new reality”, the organisation was anticipating an increase in polio cases as a result — including a possible spread of the virus to new areas.

Echoing Mihigo’s warning about COVID-19 distracting from other disease outbreaks, Rosenbauer stresses the need for continued polio surveillance and a return to vaccination campaigns “as rapidly as is safely feasible”.

“We must not forget that as long as children in Pakistan are at risk of polio paralysis … then all children in the world, wherever they live, could one day be affected by polio,” Rosenbauer adds. Pakistan and Afghanistan are currently the only countries in the world still affected by the wild poliovirus, WPV1.

Once the immediate COVID-19 crisis is over, experts agree that the speedy and effective implementation of catch-up vaccination campaigns will be vital — a matter that could be complicated by US President Donald Trump’s recent threats to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the WHO.

But Weller stresses that although investment in catch-up campaigns is vital, there will be no quick fixes.

“It’s not just about putting a band-aid or plaster over a dip in vaccine coverage,” she says. “It’s about helping those countries to strengthen their health systems for the long term.”

 

This story was originally published by SciDev.Net