Libyan guards accused of sexually assaulting minors

A Libyan man walks through rubble of the destroyed compound of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in Tripoli’s Bab Al-Aziziya area.(File/AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2021

Libyan guards accused of sexually assaulting minors

  • Smugglers and traffickers in Libya have long been notorious for brutalizing migrants
  • The UN refugee agency has documented hundreds of cases of women raped while in detention

CAIRO: When Libyan security forces rescued her earlier this year, the young Somali woman thought it would be the end of her suffering. For more than two years, she had been imprisoned and sexually abused by human traffickers notorious for extorting, torturing and assaulting migrants like her trying to reach Europe.

Instead, the 17-year-old said, the sexual assaults against her have continued, only now by guards at the government-run center in the Libyan capital Tripoli where they are being kept.

She and four other Somali teenagers undergoing similar abuses are pleading to be released from the Shara Al-Zawiya detention center. It is one of a network of centers run by Libya’s Department for Combating Illegal Immigration, or DCIM, which is supported by the European Union in its campaign to build Libya into a bulwark against mainly African migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

“While it is not the first time I suffer from sexual attacks, this is more painful as it was by the people who should protect us,” the 17-year-old said, speaking to The Associated Press by a smuggled mobile phone.

“You have to offer something in return to go to the bathroom, to call family or to avoid beating,” she said. “It’s like we are being held by traffickers.” The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual assault, and the young woman also asked not to be named, fearing reprisals.

Smugglers and traffickers in Libya — many of them members of militias — have long been notorious for brutalizing migrants. But rights groups and UN agencies say abuse also takes place in the official DCIM-run facilities.

“Sexual violence and exploitation are rife in several detention centers (for migrants) across the country,” said Tarik Lamloum, a Libyan activist working with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights.

The UN refugee agency has documented hundreds of cases of women raped while in either DCIM detention or traffickers’ prisons, with some even being impregnated by guards and giving birth during detention, said Vincent Cochetel, the agency’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean.

The group of teens are the only migrants being kept at Shara Al-Zawiya, a facility where usually migrants stay only short periods for processing. Human rights organizations say they have been trying to secure their release for weeks.

After their rescue from traffickers in February, the 17-year-old was brought along with eight other young female migrants to Shara Al-Zawiya. Four of the others were later released under unclear circumstances.

One night in April, around midnight, she asked a guard to let her go the bathroom. When she finished, the guard attacked her and grabbed her breasts forcefully, she recalled.

“I was petrified and didn’t know what to do,” she told AP. The guard touched the rest of her body including her intimate parts, then unzipped his pants and tried to strip her clothes in an attempt to rape her, she said. He continued his assault while she cried, struggled and pleaded for him to get off her.

“He only stopped when he was done on my clothes,” she said. “I was lucky that he was done quickly.”

The guard then ordered her to clean her clothes that had been covered in his semen, she recalled, breaking down in tears.

Terrified, she returned to her cell and told one of the other girls what had happened. She soon learned she wasn’t the only victim. All the girls, aged 16 to 18, had experienced similar or worse abuse by guards, she said.

A 16-year-old in the same cell told the AP she started coming under sexual harassment a few days after arriving at the center. When she pleaded with a guard to call her family, he gave her a phone and let her out of her cell to call her mother. Once she hung up, he stood behind her and grabbed her breasts, she said.

She removed his hands and started to cry. The guard only stopped after realizing other employees were at the center, she said.

“Every day they do this,” she said. “If you resist, you will be beaten or deprived of everything.”

The Libyan government has not responded to requests for comment by the AP.

At least two of the girls attempted to kill themselves in late May following alleged beatings and attempted rapes, according to local rights group Libyan Crime Watch and UN agencies.

One of them, a 15-year-old, was taken to the hospital on May 28 and treated by the international aid group Doctors Without Borders only to be returned to the detention center.

Maya Abu Ata, a spokeswoman for MSF Libya, confirmed that the group’s staff treated the two at its clinic. MSF is the abbreviation for the French name of the group, Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The MSF teams “advocated for their release from detention and lobbied protection actors and different interlocutors, however, these attempts were unsuccessful,” she said.

The UNHCR said it was working with Libyan authorities for the release of the five young women still held at Shara Al-Zawiya and their subsequent evacuation from Libya.

The case of the teens in Shara Al-Zawiya also renews questions about the EU’s role in the cycle of violence trapping migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. The EU trains, equips and supports the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people trying to cross the Central Mediterranean to Europe. At least 677 people are known to have either died or gone missing taking this route on unseaworthy boats so far this year.

Nearly 13,000 men, women and children have been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libyan shores from the start of the year up to June 12, a record number. Most are then placed in DCIM-run centers.

At some of the 29 DCIM-run centers around the country, rights groups have documented a lack of basic hygiene, health care, food and water as well as beatings and torture. DCIM receives support, supplies and training, including on human rights, through the EU’s 4.9 billion-euro Trust Fund for Africa.

Libya has been applauded by the West for a cease-fire reached last year and the appointment of an interim government earlier this year, prompting visits by European leaders and the reopening of some embassies. Despite seemingly growing political stability, activists and human rights organizations say their access to migrants in detention centers is becoming more restricted.

“The guns are silent, a cease-fire is in place ... but human rights violations are continuing unabated,” said Suki Nagra, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Libya, who is following the reports of abuse at Shara Al-Zawiya.

Even when cases are documented and alleged perpetrators arrested, they are often released due to the lack of witnesses willing to testify for fear of reprisals. For example, Abdel-Rahman Milad, who was under UN sanctions and was arrested last year on charges of human trafficking and fuel smuggling, walked free in April without trial.

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Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

Updated 16 September 2021

Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

VIENNA: Iran on Thursday dismissed the UN nuclear watchdog’s work as “unprofessional” and “unfair” shortly before the two sides are due to hold talks aimed at resolving a standoff over the origin of uranium particles found at old but undeclared sites in Iran.
The issue is a thorn in the side of both Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since the particles suggest Iran once had undeclared nuclear material at three different locations, but the IAEA has yet to obtain satisfactory answers from Iran on how the material got there or where it went.
“The statement of the Agency in its report is completely unprofessional, illusory and unfair,” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said in a statement to a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.
Gharibabadi was referring to a passage in an IAEA report last week that said the lack of progress was seriously affecting the IAEA’s ability to determine that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful, as Tehran says it is.
Failure to resolve the issue complicates efforts to restart talks aimed at bringing the US and Iran fully back into the fold of the 2015 nuclear deal, since Washington and its allies continue to pressure Iran to give the IAEA answers.


Hezbollah-organized fuel arrives in crisis-hit Lebanon

Updated 16 September 2021

Hezbollah-organized fuel arrives in crisis-hit Lebanon

  • Delivery violates US sanctions imposed on Tehran
  • Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling class

AL-AIN, Lebanon: A convoy of tanker trucks carrying Iranian diesel crossed the border from Syria into Lebanon early Thursday, a delivery organized by the militant Hezbollah group to ease crippling fuel shortages in the crisis-hit country.
The delivery violates US sanctions imposed on Tehran after former President Donald Trump pulled America out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers three years ago.
It was portrayed as a victory by Hezbollah, which stepped in to supply the fuel from its patron, Iran, while the cash-strapped government grappled with the fuel shortages for months.
“This is a very big and great thing for us because we broke the siege of America and foreign countries. ... We are working with the help of God and our great mother Iran,” said Nabiha Idriss, a Hezbollah supporter who gathered with others to greet the tankers’ convoy as it passed through the eastern town of Al-Ain.
Hezbollah has portrayed the Lebanese economic meltdown, which began in October 2019, as partly caused by an informal siege imposed by America due to the militant group’s power and influence in Lebanon. The group has been sanctioned by consecutive US administrations.
Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling class and a sectarian-based political system that thrives on patronage and nepotism. Severe shortages in fuel have paralyzed the country, resulting in crippling power cuts that have disrupted the work of hospitals and bakeries. Just to get gasoline, people must wait hours in line, commonly called, “queues of humiliation.”
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had announced a month ago that Iran was sending fuel to Lebanon to help ease the crisis. The first Hezbollah-commissioned Iranian oil tanker arrived in the Syrian port of Baniyas on Sunday and the diesel was unloaded to Syrian storage places before it was brought overland to Lebanon on Thursday by tanker truck. The convoy went through an informal border crossing in Qusayr in Syria.
Nasrallah said in a televised speech earlier this week that the tanker did not offload its cargo directly in Lebanon to avoid embarrassing Lebanese authorities and risking sanctions on Lebanon.
Hezbollah, which is often accused by its opponents of operating a state-within-a-state and has been taking part in Syria’s civil war alongside government forces, has its own crossing points along the Lebanon-Syria border away from formal border crossings.
There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or US officials on the Iranian fuel delivery Thursday.
“Don’t forget this day,” tweeted Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese oil and gas expert and activist, describing it as the day Hezbollah won over the Lebanese state.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV called it “the tanker truck convoys to break the American siege” adding that 20 tanker trucks each carrying 50,000 liters (13,210 gallons) crossed the border Thursday and were on their way to the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek where Hezbollah will start distributing the fuel.
The tanker trucks crossed from Syria’s central province of Homs into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and were welcomed by residents who gathered on the sides of the main road. Hezbollah’s yellow flags and banners praising the Iran-backed group and Syria’s President Bashar Assad decorated the streets. A few women showered the trucks with rice and flowers as they drove past.
The arrival of the Iranian diesel comes nearly a week after a new government was formed ending a 13-month deadlock. Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not commented on the deal to import fuel from Iran.
Nasrallah said earlier this week that the diesel will be donated for a period of one month to institutions including public hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, water stations and the Lebanese Red Cross. Nasrallah added that others who will get fuel at low prices are private hospitals, medicine and serum factories, bakeries and cooperatives that sell food products.
Nasrallah said three other tankers carrying diesel and one carrying gasoline will arrive in the coming weeks.

Beirut blast judge issues arrest warrant for ex-minister

Updated 16 September 2021

Beirut blast judge issues arrest warrant for ex-minister

  • Judge Tarek Bitar issued an arrest warrant for the former public works and transportation minister Youssef Fenianos, after Fenianos failed to appear for questioning
  • Bitar has also demanded that parliament lift the immunity of three MPs — Nohad Machnouk, Ghazi Zeaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil — in addition to a number of security officials he is keen to question

BEIRUT: The judge leading the investigation into the August 2020 Beirut Port blast issued an arrest warrant on Thursday for the former public works and transportation minister Youssef Fenianos, after Fenianos failed to appear for questioning.

Judge Tarek Bitar has also subpoenaed former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who was the premier at the time of the port blast, and has demanded that parliament lift the immunity of three MPs — Nohad Machnouk, Ghazi Zeaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil — in addition to a number of security officials he is keen to question.

Diab stepped down as caretaker prime minister and left the country when Prime Minister Najib Mikati took office earlier this month. Social media was abuzz with the news of Diab’s departure, with many speculating that he would not return for his scheduled questioning on September 20. Diab reportedly travelled to the US to visit his children, whom he had not seen for two years, before receiving Bitar’s subpoena, which was issued on August 26.

A judicial source said that the discriminatory Attorney General, Judge Ghassan al-Khoury — the judicial public prosecutor in the investigation, referred the subpoena against Diab to the General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces for implementation.

Bitar issued another subpoena against Diab on Sept. 14, this time including the address of his residence in Beirut. If Diab fails to return before Monday morning, then the judge would have the right to issue a warrant for his arrest.

In response to the arrest warrant for Fenianos, who is affiliated with the Marada movement but is not currently an MP and therefore does not have immunity, the head of the Marada movement, Suleiman Frangieh, tweeted: “We reiterate that we stand by Fenianos, who has the right to defend himself.”

Bitar is facing pressure from all sides of the political spectrum. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah accused the judge of “playing a political game.” Bitar’s predecessor in the case, Judge Fadi Sawan, was relieved of his duties as a result of political pressure when two of the former ministers he had charged with negligence for the disaster had their request for his removal from his post granted by a court.

Many see the subpoena against Diab as a measure of how seriously the new government is taking the investigation. If Diab is allowed to continue to evade questioning from Bitar, and if the newly formed government’s parliament refuses to lift ex-ministers’ immunity, then there seems little hope of justice for the victims of the blast and their families.

Those families took to the streets again on Thursday to apply more pressure on the political establishment to stop what they perceive as its interference in the judiciary’s investigation. They blocked the road in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut and stressed the need to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Mothers of some of the victims carried their children’s pictures and banners that referenced Mikati’s emotional speech when he discussed how people were suffering in Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis. “If your eyes watered when you thought about the mothers who were suffering, then stand with us, the mothers of the victims. Help Judge Bitar bring us justice,” the banners read.

Others held banners with blunter statements, including: “We want our rights and we will not let our children’s blood go to waste.”

William Noun, whose brother Joe was one of the 215 people killed by the explosion, which left thousands injured and several residential neighborhoods completely destroyed, told Arab News: “Diab left the country because he is running away from justice. He knows which party blew up the ammonium nitrate. The same party that prevented him from going to the port (when he got word of the ammonium nitrate stored there) before the explosion facilitated his departure.”

The families of the victims said in a joint statement: “The Public Prosecution, which is supposed to be on our side, is taking suspicious actions; it released suspects without having the powers to do so and began leaking information about the investigation.

“Stop confronting us with politics. We do not understand your policies. What we do understand is that you killed us. The Beirut Port blast was on purpose. Someone is responsible and they should be held accountable,” the statement continued.

Local media was so preoccupied with the arrest warrant for Fenianos, that news of Syrian vehicles loaded with Iranian diesel entering Lebanese territory went almost unnoticed.

The convoy — estimated to consist of around 80 tankers — entered through illegal Hezbollah crossings on the outskirts of Hermel. Hezbollah followers reportedly gathered on the road to Baalbek to greet it, and the cargo was emptied into tanks belonging to Al-Amana Fuel Co., which is currently subject to US sanctions.

Egypt welcomes UN call for new Renaissance Dam talks

Updated 16 September 2021

Egypt welcomes UN call for new Renaissance Dam talks

  • Security Council urges fresh round of African Union-led negotiations
  • Ethiopia slams Tunisia for backing opponents in water rights dispute

CAIRO: Cairo has welcomed a presidential statement issued by the UN Security Council which encouraged Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to resume negotiations on the Renaissance Dam within the framework of the negotiating track led by the president of the African Union.

The council is hoping to draft a binding legal agreement based on the African Union demands for the filling and operating of the dam.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said that the presidential statement encouraged countries that previously took part in negotiating meetings held under the African Union to continue to support talks in order to settle technical and legal issues related to the dam.

Egypt said that the statement “confirms the importance” of the Renaissance Dam, and recognizes the potential negative repercussions on peace and security in the region that could arise from the dispute.

The ministry stressed that the statement represents an affirmation of demands by the African Union, which ask that Ethiopia engage seriously in order to reach a binding legal agreement.

In the statement, the UN Security Council urged Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to resume African Union-led talks to reach an agreement “within a reasonable time frame.”

However, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry objected to the statement, warning that announcing a position on an issue related to water rights and development is “outside the scope of the UNSC mandate.”

Ethiopia also attacked Tunisia’s position on the Security Council statement, saying: “Tunisia made a historical mistake by requesting a position from the Security Council.”

Tunisia’s “historic misstep in presenting the council’s statement undermines its official responsibility as an alternate member of the UN Security Council for an African seat,” Ethiopia’s foreign ministry added, saying that it “will not recognize any claims which are raised based on the statement.”

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Libya’s NOC says Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil blockades have ended

Updated 16 September 2021

Libya’s NOC says Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil blockades have ended

  • NOC’s chairman, Mustafa Sanalla, had held talks with local elders who had helped to end the protests

TRIPOLI: Libya’s National Oil Corp. (NOC) on Thursday said that a blockade of the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil terminals had ended and that export operations had returned to normal.
Protesters at those two ports and another, Hariga, had been blocking exports since last week and demanding jobs for local people. NOC said on Wednesday that operations had also resumed at Hariga.
A company statement said that NOC’s chairman, Mustafa Sanalla, had held talks with local elders who had helped to end the protests.
Security issues in Libya, where a fragile peace process has installed a unity government, have repeatedly threatened to undermine oil output that has topped 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) this year.
Last year eastern-based forces, which control most of the oil production and export areas, blockaded terminals for months and almost entirely halted Libyan oil output.
In April, with parliament blocking the unity government’s budget proposals, NOC briefly declared force majeure on some exports after a subsidiary said it could not afford to continue operating.
Rival factions see control over the oil sector that brings in most national wealth as a key factor in both the political and military struggles that have racked Libya since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.