UN probing reported mass grave on Libya-Tunisia border

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) -The U.N. human rights chief said on Tuesday that his office was following up on reports of a mass grave in the desert along the Libya-Tunisia border, after the bodies of at least 65 migrants were found at another site this year.

Volker Turk denounced widespread violations against migrants and refugees in Libya, which straddles a dangerous transit route through the Sahara Desert and across the southern Mediterranean.

Abuses against migrants were being “perpetrated at scale, with impunity” by both state and non-state actors, Turk said, listing crimes including human trafficking, torture, forced labour, extortion, starvation, detention and mass expulsions.

“I urge the authorities to respond swiftly to our inquiries, and to investigate these crimes fully,” he told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in a speech addressing Libya’s record over the last year, where he noted “disturbing developments”.

He gave no further details of the mass grave. A spokesperson at Turk’s office said: “We have not received information from the authorities but we are continuing to follow up on this.”

In March, at least 65 bodies of migrants were discovered at a mass grave site in southwest Libya’s al-Jahriya valley about 420 km (260 miles) south of Tripoli, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said.

Libya’s Justice Minister Halima Ibrahim Abdulrahman stressed her country’s commitment to human rights and did not respond directly to Turk’s comments on the mass graves.

“Libya gives special importance to the rights of refugees,” she told the council, adding that some of Turk’s points were “not in line with reality”.

Tunisia’s ambassador Sabri Bachtobji did not address Turk’s findings in his address.

Libya and Tunisia are vital partners in the European Union’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean from North Africa into southern Europe.

A U.N. fact-finding mission on Libya has previously found grounds to believe crimes against humanity such as torture have been committed against migrants.

The mission expired last year, however, Gambia has filed a motion at the ongoing council meeting to provide assistance to help Libya improve its human-rights record, a U.N. document showed.

(Additional reporting by Tarek Amara in Tunis and Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; editing by Matthias Williams, Mark Heinrich and Rod Nickel)



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