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Libya: visits to 6,000 detainees in and around Tripoli

20-10-2011 Operational Update No 14/11

In recent weeks, the ICRC has visited thousands of newly arrested people. It has evacuated almost 50 wounded patients from Sirte and delivered medical supplies to Bani Walid. ICRC experts are now providing the transitional authorities with advice on managing mass graves and human remains.

"Since late August, we have visited around 6,000 detainees in or near Tripoli, including some 2,500 in Misrata," said Hanan Salah, an ICRC delegate. "They are held in more than 30 different places, some of which are more suitable for detaining people than others. Where necessary, we have called upon the authorities to place detainees in proper detention facilities instead of makeshift structures such as schools."

In recent weeks, the ICRC has obtained access to new detention facilities under the authority of military councils in Tripoli, in nearby towns such as Zawiya, Sabratha, Zuara and Khoms, and in Misrata. It has also visited new places of detention in Benghazi. Obtaining access to all newly arrested people is an ICRC priority, especially in and around places where clashes have occurred recently.

So far the ICRC has visited around 50 places of detention all over the country holding a total of more than 7,000 people. Some 1,500 of the detainees in the places visited were foreign nationals, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.

The aim of the visits is to monitor the treatment of detainees and the conditions in which they are held. ICRC delegates visit all of the premises, talk in private to the detainees of their choice, repeat their visits and share their findings exclusively with the competent authorities.

In addition, the delegates give detainees the opportunity to phone their families to let them know they are safe. In a large number of detention places, ICRC delegates have also distributed such items as clothing, sheets, mattresses, buckets and hygiene articles.

Inside Bani Walid

On 17 October, ICRC staff entered the embattled city of Bani Walid and visited its central hospital.

"We found a ghost-like city with clear traces of fighting," said Dejan Ivkov, the ICRC delegate in charge of the operation. "When we reached the hospital, we found only a few health-care staff and no patients, but a medical team sent by the authorities arrived shortly afterwards and a few patients were brought in for treatment." The ICRC staff delivered enough surgical supplies to treat up to 100 war-wounded patients, external fixators to stabilize broken limbs, 40 body bags and hygiene items to the hospital.

"On the road, we saw around 25 ambulances taking wounded people to Mizdah hospital and Shmeikh clinic," added Mr Ivkov. The ICRC had delivered medical supplies for the treatment of 50 patients and external fixators a few days before to Mizdah hospital, the medical facility closest to Bani Walid where war casualties were being transferred.

Situation slowly improving in Sirte hospital

Water is still not running properly in Ibn Sina Hospital in Sirte. For the past few days, a tanker has been supplying the facility with enough water to meet its minimum requirement, but the hospital's demand for water is very high and a long-term solution is needed. An ICRC engineer went to Sirte today to perform urgently needed repairs.

ICRC staff evacuated 21 wounded patients from Ibn Sina Hospital for further treatment on 17 October. Despite the recent arrival of medical staff and volunteers in the hospital, the patients could not be treated there. They were flown to Tripoli for specialized care.

Since 6 October, the ICRC has evacuated 49 patients from Sirte. On 1 and 3 October, it delivered urgently needed medical supplies to the besieged hospital.

Minor operations and life-saving stabilization measures can now be performed at Ibn Sina Hospital. Bottled oxygen provided by the ICRC is still available.

ICRC staff and Libyan Red Crescent volunteers have supplied 5.6 tonnes of food for the hospital's kitchen. They have also provided baby food, baby milk and other food items for civilians still staying at the hospital.

Civilians must be spared

In recent weeks, the ICRC and the Libyan Red Crescent have provided relief for more than 30,000 people displaced from Sirte and Bani Walid. One-month food rations, hygiene items, baby food, baby milk and diapers have been distributed to help them cope with the often difficult living conditions they face in their displacement. People have fled to villages and oases such as Harawa or Wadi Mrah close to Sirte, or Tininaya, Shmeikh, Mizdah or Nasmah to the south and west of Bani Walid, or to desert areas surrounding the two cities.

About 3,000 displaced people who arrived recently in a camp near Benghazi were in urgent need of food, which was provided for them, along with hygiene items, by the ICRC. The ICRC and the Libyan Red Crescent have also provided aid for sub-Saharan Africans and other vulnerable groups in places such as Misrata and Harawa.

The ICRC is concerned about civilians who may still be trapped, possibly in dire conditions, in areas of Sirte and Bani Walid. It is also closely monitoring the situation of civilians elsewhere in Libya. Under international humanitarian law, all parties involved in the conflict must protect civilians and take all possible precautions to spare them.

Humanitarian forensics

In various parts of Libya, human remains are being discovered regularly in mass graves, hospitals and other sites. A couple of weeks ago, between the Red Valley and an area south-west of Sirte, ICRC delegates came across eight dead bodies that were left unburied or covered by sand.

While many dead bodies have not been claimed, thousands of families are waiting to find out what happened to their missing loved ones. The new National Commission for the Missing has turned to the ICRC for support in forensic work and the management of remains.

"Local volunteers, health and religious authorities have been eager to uncover as quickly as possible the mass graves they knew about," said Mariko Kushima, an ICRC delegate. "Until a few weeks ago we were responding to a crisis situation, so we urgently provided support and training for Libyan Red Crescent volunteers to make sure that dead bodies could be properly identified."

With the arrival of a forensic expert and a delegate experienced in dealing with missing persons issues, the ICRC is taking on an advisory role and recommending a more coherent approach at national level.

"The role of the ICRC is to help the Commission for the Missing and other competent authorities create a pool of forensic experts and set up further training and guidance for all those involved," said Ms Kushima. "Our aim is to help bring answers to grief-stricken families and uphold their right to know the fate of their missing relatives. The ICRC is not involved in the collection of evidence that could be used in any judicial proceedings."

This week, the ICRC helped complete the exhumation of five bodies at a mass grave in Al Qa'laa, in the Jebel Nefusa mountains. The aim was to collect data for the purpose of post-mortem identification.

For further information, please contact:
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Tripoli/Benghazi, tel: +870 772 390 124 (ext. 250) or +218 9 923 304 560
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 20 11 or +41 79 536 92 50


Photos

Field hospital, 50 km west of Sirte, Libya. 

Field hospital, 50 km west of Sirte, Libya. On 17 October, the ICRC evacuated 21 war-wounded patients from Ibn Sina Hospital in Sirte to hospitals in Tripoli. This was the fourth evacuation, and brought to 49 the total number of wounded patients evacuated by the ICRC.
© ICRC / A. Vicario

Harawa, about 50 kilometres east of Sirte, Libya. Libyan Red Crescent volunteers distribute food and hygiene kits to displaced families. 

Harawa, about 50 kilometres east of Sirte, Libya. Libyan Red Crescent volunteers distribute food and hygiene kits to displaced families.
© ICRC / D. Fakhr

East of Sirte. Displaced families from Sirte queue for fuel brought in by tanker so that they can move to safer areas further east. 

East of Sirte. Displaced families from Sirte queue for fuel brought in by tanker so that they can move to safer areas further east.
© ICRC / D. Fakhr

Near the port of Misrata, Libya. 100 people from Chad, Mali, Nigeria, and Sudan have gathered in a camp run by the Libyan Red Crescent. Working with the Libyan Red Crescent, the ICRC is providing these people with food and other necessities. 

Near the port of Misrata, Libya. 100 people from Chad, Mali, Nigeria, and Sudan have gathered in a camp run by the Libyan Red Crescent. Working with the Libyan Red Crescent, the ICRC is providing these people with food and other necessities.
© ICRC

South-west of Sirte, Libya. ICRC delegates inspect a site where dead bodies were found, note the coordinates of the location and talk to the forces on the ground about how to properly handle the bodies. 

South-west of Sirte, Libya. ICRC delegates inspect a site where dead bodies were found, note the coordinates of the location and talk to the forces on the ground about how to properly handle the bodies.
© ICRC / D. Fakhr