CAIRO (AP) — United Nations-commissioned investigators on Wednesday painted a grim picture for migrants in Libya, just days after they said they were seeking to verify the presence of mass graves at a human trafficking center in the country’s northwest.
Chief investigator Mohamed Auajjar said the group documented “consistent patterns of serious human rights violations” against migrants in government-run detention centers and trafficking hubs.
Libya has in recent years emerged as a popular, if extremely dangerous, route toward Europe for those fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East. The North African nation plunged into turmoil following the NATO-backed 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
In the northwestern town of Bani Walid, the investigators, commissioned by the U.N.’s top human rights body, found that “migrants were held captive, murdered, tortured and raped.”
They said in the report that at least eight migrants spoke about mass graves in the town, something the investigators said they needed to verify.
Auajjar told the Human Rights Council Wednesday that they were also examining the existence of secret detention facilities including some controlled by armed militias.
The investigators said in an October report that they had evidence of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Libya. Many of the alleged crimes, they say, were committed against civilians and migrants detained in the country while trying to get to Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants hoping to reach Europe have made their way in recent years through Libya, where a lucrative trafficking and smuggling business has flourished.
The country has been without a functioning government and fragmented for years between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in the oil-rich nation, smuggling migrants through the country’s lengthy border with six nations. They pack desperate migrants into ill-equipped rubber boats, then embark on risky voyages across the Mediterranean Sea.
Many of those who have been intercepted and returned to Libya — including women and children — are held in government-run detention centers where they suffer from abuse, including torture, rape and extortion, according to rights groups.