Libyan guards accused of sexually assaulting minors

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

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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Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Fire crews battle Turkish wildfires at holiday destinations

While authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as ‘sabotage’ by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis. (AP)
  • Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore

ISTANBUL: Wildfires in the Turkish holiday beach destinations of Antalya and Mugla raged on Sunday as firefighters worked to battle the blazes for a fifth day. As some residents boarded boats to flee the danger, coast guard ships waited in the sea in case a bigger evacuation was needed.
Police water cannons, usually used to control riots, assisted helicopters and fire trucks in a village of Mugla’s popular district of Bodrum to fight fires. Turkish television showed fires had reignited after being extinguished earlier, with blazes and smoke approaching a village.
Civilians were trying to help, hoping to protect homes and olive groves, but some houses were already damaged. Coast guard and private boats were helping some residents evacuate by sea.
Fires in Marmaris, another tourist destination in Mugla, continued Sunday as strong winds made firefighting efforts more difficult. Residents of villages around Marmaris pleaded for more help on social media. Tourists and some residents were boarding boats with their suitcases as others waited anxiously to see if the fire would come down to the shore. Fires were also encroaching on a village near the town of Manavgat, where helicopters were trying to extinguish blazes. The minister of forestry and agriculture, Bekir Pakdemirli, tweeted that 107 wildfires were “under control” across Turkey. His list showed that, since Wednesday, wildfires had ignited in 32 provinces. The wildfire death toll rose to eight on Sunday.
Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated Saturday from some hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore. Russian media reported that 100 Russian tourists were among those evacuated. While Turkish authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as “sabotage” by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis, as seen by the drastic increases in temperatures along with accidents caused by people.
Turkey’s president said Saturday that one of the fires was started by children. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured some of the affected areas on Saturday and promised to help residents rebuild their homes. But social media users criticized him for arriving in Marmaris in a massive convoy that affected traffic and throwing bags of tea from the top of his bus to people gathered to hear him speak.
A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including on the Italian island of Sicily and in western Greece, where some residents had to be evacuated by boat to escape the flames.
Temperatures in Turkey and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius on Monday in many cities and towns. Antalya was already registering 41 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Turkey’s eastern Van province, floods destroyed at least six houses after a small river overflowed amid heavy rains. Floods in northern Turkey last month killed at least six people.


Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
Updated 02 August 2021

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city

Assad army steps up offensive in restive southern city
  • The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan

AMMAN: Syrian regime troops stepped up shelling of an opposition enclave in the southern city of Daraa in a bid to assert control over an area that has defied state authority since it was retaken three years ago, witnesses, the army and residents said.

An army assault on the old quarter of Daraa suffered a blow on Thursday when rebels mounted a counteroffensive across the province, capturing dozens of troops.

The army has since sent hundreds of elite troops, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles to storm the enclave where peaceful protests against Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.

The rebels disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border with Jordan, which closed the crossing point on Sunday.

The Syrian regime troops, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights in 2018.

Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons but kept the army from entering many towns including the old quarter of the provincial capital known as Daraa Al-Balaad.

The Syrian regime troops on Sunday blamed what they called terrorists for foiling several rounds of negotiations with opposition figures since last week to allow the army to set up checkpoints in the enclave.

The opposition insists the agreement allowed only civilian control, local officials say.

“The regime wants to end what they see as a living symbol of the revolt against it. If they silence it by returning the army they will subjugate the whole Hauran region,” Abu Jehad al Horani, an opposition official, said from inside the enclave.

Damascus-based relief bodies said at least 2,000 families fled their homes since the fighting began on Thursday.


Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian foreign minister: We trust wisdom of Tunisian leadership on managing current crisis

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. (AFP)
  • Shoukry highlights Cairo’s aspiration for continued cooperation with Libya to promote regional stability

CAIRO: Egypt says it trusts the wisdom and ability of the Tunisian presidency to overcome the current crisis as soon as possible.

It also expressed its full solidarity with the Tunisian people and their legitimate aspirations, according to a spokesperson for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

The spokesperson stressed the need to avoid escalation and refrain from violence against state institutions, praising the role of the latter in maintaining the security and stability of the country.

“We are following with great interest what is happening in Tunisia and what the authorities are doing there to achieve the security, stability and sovereignty of the country,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in a press conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra.

“We fully trust the wisdom of the political leadership in Tunisia and its ability to manage the situation to achieve the aspirations of its people,” he added.

Lamamra, for his part, stressed that “what is happening in Tunisia is an internal matter,” adding that Algeria stood in solidarity with the country.

Shoukry also spoke on the situation in Libya. The Egyptian foreign minister said that the opening of the coastal road in Libya was a good sign of dialogue and reconciliation and would enhance the chances of the elections’ success, putting Libya on the right path to restore its stability, eliminate the terrorist threat and work with neighboring countries Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan and Chad.

“We need cooperation between these countries in the region due to the turmoil and challenges it is witnessing,” Shoukry said, adding that every positive step taken would find support and sympathy from Egypt, Algeria and the rest of the neighboring countries.

Shoukry spoke on the importance of restoring stability to Libya for the benefit of both the Libyan people and the other countries in the region.

He also stressed the need for foreign forces to exit Libyan land and for the issue of militias to be dealt with.

The Algerian minister said that the relations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were going through a delicate stage and that it was important to reach an agreement on the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Lamamra expressed his hope that Algeria would be part of the solution, stressing that the issue of the GERD was of global importance and ought to receive the attention of the international community.


At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
Updated 01 August 2021

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting

At least 40 Houthi fighters killed in fierce Marib fighting
  • Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters
  • Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib

ALEXANDRIA: Dozens of Houthi fighters in Yemen have been killed in fierce fighting with government forces during the past 24 hours in the provinces of Marib, Lahj, Jouf and Al-Bayda, army officials and tribal leaders said on Sunday.
At least 40 Houthis were killed on Saturday and Sunday in Rahabah district, south of Marib city, when government troops pushed back their assault in mountainous areas in the district, Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen Army’s military media, told Arab News.
The Yemeni military official said that the army and allied tribesmen, backed air support from the Arab coalition, mounted a counteroffensive in the district and managed to seize control of a mountain and weapons left behind by Houthi fighters.
Warplanes conducted several aid raids in Marib province, targeting military vehicles carrying fighters and weapons heading to the battlefields.
Tribesmen reported seeing at least two military vehicles catching fire after being hit by the warplanes in Marib province.
By expelling the Houthis from Al-Abzakh mountain, loyalists would have control over a large swathe of land south of Marib and would effectively push away the Houthi threat to Marib city from the south.
Despite their losses in the south, the Houthis continued to aggressively attack government forces in areas west of Marib city, local media said.
The Houthis mounted attacks on government forces in the Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara regions, but failed to make any territorial gains.
Thousands of people have been killed in the province of Marib since February when the Houthis renewed a major offensive to control the strategic city of Marib.
Houthis have ignored many local and international calls to cease their offensive and comply with peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.
In the neighboring Jouf province, state media quoted Brig. Mohammed Al-Hajji, an army commander, as saying that army troops and tribesmen on Sunday repulsed a Houthi offensive on government-controlled locations in Al-Jadafer, east of Jouf province, and adding that the rebels were forced to retreat after suffering “heavy” losses.
Fighting also occurred in borders between Lahj and Al-Bayda provinces where the Houthis attacked an area controlled by forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council.
Local media said that a government soldier and several Houthis were killed during the failed Houthi attack in the Senah area of Lahj province. Tribesmen on Sunday attacked the Houthi areas in Al-Souma district, west of Al-Bayda province.
Coronavirus
Coronavirus cases continue to fluctuate across government-controlled provinces in Yemen, with the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee on Sunday recording nine new cases and one death, compared with three new cases and zero deaths on Saturday.
On Friday, the committee announced the recording of 16 new cases and one death.
The total number of confirmed cases in liberated areas is 7,070, including 1,377 deaths and 4,200 recoveries. Local health officials believe that the surging numbers of cases might represent a new wave of the pandemic.
“The epidemiological situation is worrying, as cases have begun to surge,” Dr. Ahmed Mansour, a health official in the southern city of Taiz, told Arab News by telephone.


Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 01 August 2021

Egypt COVID-19 vaccine to begin distribution in mid-August

Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference announcing the details of a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices

CAIRO: The first 10 million doses of Egypt’s coronavirus vaccine Vaccera Sinovac will be distributed in mid-August to more than 500 centers nationwide, the Ministry of Health and Population has announced.

People will be able to receive certificates proving they have been vaccinated through 126 government offices, said Health and Population Minister Hala Zayed.

The certificates are accredited and insured, and carry a unique QR code that will contain the holder’s data, photo and vaccination status, she added.

The ministry is also finalizing an Egyptian Health Passport app to be used in airports.

Zayed stressed the need to continue adhering to the required precautionary and preventative measures, and to stay away from large gatherings.