The UN Libya mission is gravely concerned by reports of a sudden release of 401 prisoners and acts of retribution in west Libyan towns captured by forces of the internationally recognised government this week.
The statement came after forces aligned with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) seized Surman and Sabratha on Monday, pushing back rivals loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) are attempting to take Tripoli, escalating an on-off conflict between east and west Libyan factions that has increasingly drawn in foreign powers.
“UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya) notes with grave concern reports of attacks on civilians, the Surman Prison break and release of 401 prisoners without adequate legal proceedings or vetting, desecration of corpses, retribution, including looting, robbery and torching of public and private properties,” the mission said in a statement.
“UNSMIL is following up the allegations, which if verified, would constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”
The GNA said inmates left Surman prison after pro-Haftar forces were driven from the town and before GNA forces arrived. It called on local police to return to work and prevent violations.
The GNA justice ministry said 384 prisoners escaped after a prison riot and called for those who fled to hand themselves in.
UNSMIL condemned LNA forces’ “indiscriminate bombardment of Tripoli with rockets, many landing in civilian neighbourhoods, resulting in casualties”.
It repeated calls for a humanitarian pause, at a time when the divided country is trying to contain its first cases of coronavirus.