During the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which concluded yesterday, Friday, at the council’s headquarters in Geneva, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies spotlighted the humanitarian and rights situation in Libya. This comes as part of efforts by CIHRS to analyze the causes of and possible solutions for the grave violations seen in Libya and to support Libyan associations and human rights defenders as they continue to document serious violations, offer support to victims in the context of a wide-scale armed conflict that has spread throughout the country, and attempt to protect themselves from persistent threats from various militias. The CIHRS is cooperating with local partners to offer recommendations to ensure the inclusion of human rights guarantees in the political accord and to bolster the role of local organizations, the National Council for Civil Liberties, and the judiciary in monitoring the implementation of the agreement.
The HRC discussed rights in Libya on September 25 and 29. It first reviewed Libya’s commitment to and implementation of recommendations it received during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2010. The second day’s proceedings examined the work of the commission of inquiry formed by the HRC in March 2015 pursuant to Resolution 28/30, with a mandate to expose serious human rights violations committed since January 2014 by militias in Libya, including militias in western Libya, paramilitary forces in the east, and the terrorist Islamic State (Daesh) organization.
On Tuesday morning, September 29, the CIHRS presented an oral intervention on human rights violations in Libya. In the intervention, the CIHRS said that “the rising spiral of violence of Libya” is the natural result of ongoing impunity for grave abuses and the absence of any serious steps to restructure security institutions in the country.” It said that there could be no talk of peaceful coexistence and the rule of law without a serious engagement with these two issues.
The CIHRS held militias and paramilitary groups responsible for large-scale human rights violations all over Libya, adding that Daesh has been able to gain a foothold in several Libyan cities because of such actions, which include “arbitrary, ongoing attacks on civilians, human rights defenders, women, children, minorities, and foreigners, as well as strikes against vital infrastructure and major statement institutions.”
The CIHRS said that the severe violence in Libya has clearly contributed to a growing humanitarian crisis. About 1.9 million Libyans are in need of basic healthcare, while 1.2 million people have difficulties obtaining adequate food.
On September 28, the CIHRS, in cooperation with the Observatory to Protect Human Rights Defenders and the Defender Network, organized a discussion panel. Speaking at the panel were Hassan al-Amin, a Libyan journalist and rights activist; Marwan al-Tashani, a representative of the Libyan Human Rights Defenders Network; and Karim Salem, a CIHRS researcher on Libya. The discussion was moderated by Gerald Staberock, the secretary-general of the World Organization Against Torture.
The panel discussed the difficulties facing rights defenders as they do their job. Marwan al-Tashani said that the assassination of many defenders sent many others into a voluntary exile. Assassinations of judges have had a similar effect. The assassination of eight judges and the attempted assassination of six more has led to the collapse of the judicial system, prompting many citizens to seek protection from militias and tribal leaders.
Rights defender Hassan al-Amin said that rights situation in Libya today is worse than in the Qaddafi era, adding, “at least then, we knew who the enemy was and who was doing the kidnapping.” He said that Libya was currently in a do-or-die situation.
“Without restructuring security institutions and bringing rights violators to justice, any attempt to bring peace to Libya will only lead to further deterioration,” said Karim Salem. “There will be no tangible progress, but only a new phase of violence.” Salem also said, “law and resolutions adopted by the Transitional Council, the General National Congress, and the Council of Deputies since 2011 have fostered the creation of paramilitary structures not controlled by the state. They have set no standards for a mechanism to incorporate these groups and individuals into security institutions, and have given militia and paramilitary leaders sovereign positions in the Ministry of Defense and Interior Ministry, such as the High Security Committee to Defend Libya, the Chamber of Libyan Revolutionaries, the National Guard, Libyan Dawn, and Operation Dignity. In addition, amnesties issued by the Libyan government have meant there is no accountability.” He added that the Libyan legal system is no longer capable of carrying out any national investigation and he called on the international community to conduct an independent, international inquiry.
On September 25, the CIHRS presented two oral interventions on Libya’s UPR. The first, presented in coordination with the World Organization Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights, discussed the situation of human rights defenders in Libya, noting that “violence, harassment, and intimidation are daily occurrences for rights defenders in a climate of impunity resulting from the collapse of the state.” The intervention added that the current context in Libya goes beyond defenders’ need for protection.
“Human rights defenders are the cornerstone of a state that protects its citizens and empowers them to claim their rights,” the organizations said. They called on the Libyan government to implement the recommendations offered, which focus on the urgent need to protect human rights defenders without delay.
The second intervention, presented by the CIHRS in conjunction with the World Organization against Torture and the Libyan UPR Coalition, welcomed the Libyan government’s commitment to the UPR.
The organizations said that the humanitarian situation in Libya continues to deteriorate because militias and paramilitary groups participating in the conflict continue to commit violations that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The organizations said that the Libyan authorities failed to establish an instrument for transitional justice, thus denying Libyan citizens a national mechanism for redress. They urged the authorities to continue efforts to address this failure and refrain from justifying it on the grounds of protecting the gains of the revolution or the war on terrorism.
The organizations said that declarations of commitment and general recommendations are no longer sufficient: “If there is no genuine progress on the ground to consolidate the rule of law and democratic governance and ensure basic liberties, the idea of reaching a permanent peaceful resolution to the crisis will remain an unattainable dream.”
In the same context, on September 24, in cooperation with the Lawyers for Justice in Libya and the Libyan UPR Coalition, the CIHRS organized a panel discussion titled “The Libyan UPR: Challenges and Opportunities for Implementation.” The discussion featured Antoine Madelin, the director of international advocacy for the International Federation for Human Rights; Riyad al-Akkar, a researcher on the right of expression with the Coalition of Libyan Human Rights Organizations; Karim Salem, a CIHRS researcher on Libya; and Gerald Staberock, the secretary-general of the World Organization Against Torture. The discussion was moderated by Amal al-Hadari, the coordinator of the international advocacy program at Lawyers for Justice in Libya.
Riyad al-Akkar began by noting that this was the first time for rights groups active in Libya to take part in the UPR. He then examined the status of rights in Libya across different fields. Regarding freedom of opinion and expression, the situation was becoming more dangerous for journalists, he said, due to local legislation criminalizing the right of expression. For example, Law 5 criminalizes defaming the state, while Article 207 of Penal Code prescribes the death penalty for anyone who wishes to change the political and social system in the country. There have been more than 70 attacks on journalists that have entailed 9 deaths. Regarding the right to demonstrate, Law 65 allows the authorities to change the location and date of any demonstration, or even cancel it, without prior notice and without stating cause.
“Although the state of Libya accepted 115 of 120 recommendations in the 2010 UPR and declared its commitment to the rule of law and the protection and promotion of human rights, executive and legislate authorities Libya over the past four years have taken no tangible steps to implement these recommendations,” said Karim Salem.
Salem said that amnesties issued by the legislative and executive authorities in 2012 and 2015 encouraged militias to continue committing grave violations.
The panel also outlined expectations for the international community in regard to Libya. Antoin Madelin identified three major challenges facing the international community: first, the civil war and peace processes; two, the growing presence of Daesh in Libya, as well as how to stop its spread and develop counterterrorism instruments; and three, subsequent to progress on the first two points, there remains the challenge of building a new state that respects diversity and is based on the rule of law.
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