Libya: A complete failure to implement UPR recommendations since 2015

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

In the run-up to the 2020 Libya Universal Periodic Review pre-session in collaboration with UPR Info , CIHRS with Libya Platform[1], issued a joint statement on April 2nd  2020 detailing the reasons for the Libyan authorities’ failure over the past four years to fulfill the obligations and pledges made as part of the 171 recommendations accepted during the country’s last UPR in 2015.

The statement also addressed significant steps the Libyan authorities could take in the coming months if they want to prove their good faith and if they have the genuine political will to reform, change, and keep their international commitments and basic human rights obligations t` UPR during the 36 UPR session was postponed by the UNHRC from May to November 2020, which gives the Libyan authorities the opportunity to take the necessary preliminary steps to uphold human rights and guarantee fundamental freedoms. These measures include repealing laws and decrees restricting freedom of expression and association; guaranteeing protection for human rights defenders; ending arbitrary detention; protecting refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers; empowering women and minorities and ending discrimination, and taking serious steps to restructure the security sector.

These same measures were recommended in a detailed joint report submitted to the UN by CIHRS, the Libya Platform, and Aman Organisation Against Discrimination[2] in 3 October 2019. The report detailed the systematic violations committed by militias and paramilitary groups subordinate to both the Government of National Accord and the Interim Government. These include extrajudicial killings of detainees, enforced disappearance and torture in detention centers, and grave abuses against vulnerable groups like displaced persons, non-Libyans, and children. In order to stifle free expression, journalists, bloggers, and other media personnel are arrested and targeted by all parties, while  judicial personnel are targeted  to forcibly obstruct the courts.

The report concluded that there is no safe place for anyone in Libya today, including for human rights defenders, journalists, representatives of judicial, legislative, and executive authorities, and above all civilians and residents, both Libyans and non-Libyans. These are the people paying the price for the prolonged armed conflict, as they are displaced from their cities and compelled to live in inhumane conditions. The same conflict has inflicted severe damage to basic civilian infrastructure as well, including hospitals, schools, airports, and sites of worship.

CIHRS also submitted its own report for the purposes of Libya’s UPR. Focusing on freedom of expression and association in the midst of armed conflict, the report highlights the restrictive statutory framework governing expression and association, which is heavily reliant upon the repressive Gaddafi legacy, in particular the Penal Code and the counterterrorism law, and manipulates these laws against rights defenders and journalists. The report details the ongoing, systematic harassment of rights defenders and journalists by representatives of the executive authorities in eastern and western Libya. Despite their violent conflict, both authorities are in agreement when it comes to repressing freedom of association and expression, whether by arbitrary administrative practices or physical assaults by Interior and Defense ministry personnel on civic association representatives, human rights defenders, and journalists.

[1] The platform coalition was established in 2016 by an initiative from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. The coalition vision is based on creating a space for meeting, dialogue and coordination in order to develop and raise the efficiency of the Libyan civil society and enable it to play an effective role in promoting public freedoms and human rights and to develop an integrated strategy for change and influence at various levels. Currently, the coalition includes 11 Libyan human rights organizations.

[2] A Libyan organization specialized in combating racial discrimination in Libya and monitoring human rights violations, especially racial discrimination and hate speech.

UPR Pre-session

CIHRS-Libya Platform: Joint Statement

Libya: Ahead of UPR, state institutions and peace initiatives paralyzed by armed and paramilitary groups

Over the last four years, two competing legislative and executive authorities – the Interim Government in eastern Libya and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in western Libya - have been vying for international legitimacy and recognition. These two authorities rely on militias and paramilitary groups including some armed extremist groups tied to al-Qaeda and the Madkhali Salafists, to control government offices, banks, the Libyan Investment Agency, oil fields, commercial seaports, and airports. Libyan authorities issue official decrees delegating sweeping powers to these armed groups in order to obtain their backing, putting them in charge of security and law enforcement without any accountability. These paramilitary groups are then incorporated into the security establishment, without training or any uniform national program,

Since 2015, the Libya Platform has documented numerous violations committed by these militias. 247 journalists and media workers, and over 100 human rights defenders have been targeted by militias and paramilitaries, according to the Platform. Paramilitaries have also picked out activists at airports and security checkpoints to question them about their activities, reasons for travel, and political affiliations; many such interrogations have ended in arbitrary arrest and violations of bodily integrity.

Libya is continuing to enforce laws broadly violating freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, such as Administrative Act 286 issued in 2019, and decrees 1 and 2 issued in 2016, both on CSO regulation.  In addition to this more recent legislation, they also enforce the Counterterrorism Law of 2014, the 2001 Law on Civic Associations, Law 65 of 2012 restricting the right of peaceful assembly, and the 1972 Publications Law. In other words, official and de facto executive authorities in Libya have systematically exploited the constitutional vacuum to redeploy repressive laws predating the revolution; they have issued supplementary decisions and decrees to further fetter the exercise of rights to expression, association, and peaceful assembly, extending executive control over them. The authorities alone, absent any judicial oversight, have power to license, dissolve, or suspend activities of civic associations, issue permits for demonstrations and assemblies, and authorize journalists, from both local and international outlets to practice their profession.

Armed groups affiliated to eastern and western authorities have paralyzed the national judiciary through intimidation and violence. In the last four years, the Libya Platform has documented seven paramilitary assaults on a number of Public Prosecution offices and Libyan courts. At least ten judicial personnel were abducted and subjected to inhumane treatment in connection with their work on criminal cases. Three members of the judiciary were killed, and one judge survived an assassination attempt. Judge Mohamed Ben Omar was forcibly disappeared on 26 February 2020, from his home in the town of Castelverde (62 kilometers West of Tripoli); his whereabouts are still unknown. Two other noteworthy kidnappings occurred in 2019: an official at the Ministry of Justice was found dead a few days after being abducted by an armed group on 7 August; Dr. Seham Sergiwa, a parliamentarian of the Tobruk House of representatives, was abducted on 18 July 2019 in Benghazi and her whereabouts remain unknown. Her abduction occurred after she spoke out publicly about the presence of radical armed groups in western and eastern Libya.

The Public Prosecution is unable to arrest suspects or provide any guarantees of protection for victims and witnesses, which has made it difficult for the Libyan judiciary to prosecute human rights violations without interference by militias. At the same time, dozens of civilians are tried in military courts in eastern Libya without due process guarantees.

Displacement and deprivation of basic security, health, and educational services are commonplace for Libyan civilians in armed conflict zones. Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers on Libyan territory are especially vulnerable, routinely subjected to torture and ill-treatment, beatings, and sexual violence.  Women in detention are subject to sexual extortion, rape and alleged sexual slavery. Those who are not in any form of detention still run the risk of falling into the hands of human traffickers or being conscripted to fight or transport weapons around the country, even by sea.

In the interests of  ending impunity and preventing grave violations of human rights in Libya, we the organizations of the Libya Platform, call on the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to take action to form a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) under the Human Rights Council     to document and preserve evidence on violations of human rights and humanitarian international law, in addition to identifying and holding accountable persons alleged to have committed these violations. Such an instrument would support efforts to prevent additional violations and abuses, thereby bolstering protection for civilians in Libya and paving the way for the rule of law and justice. Indeed, we anticipate that a Commission of Inquiry would reduce militia and military attacks on nascent state institutions and contribute to thwarting militias in their undermining of attempts to reach a peaceful, lasting solution to the conflict in Libya.

Recommendations to the Libyan State

1-Repeal the following laws and decrees:

  • To protect freedom of expression, repeal Press Law no. 76 issued in 1972 and Penal Code articles no. 178, 205, 208, 245, 438, 439.
  • To protect freedom of association, repeal Law no. 19 issued in 2001, regulating CSOs, and all executive decrees related to it.
  • To protect freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial, repeal Counter-terrorism Law no. 3 issued in 2014.
  • To protect freedom of peaceful assembly, repeal Law no. 65 issued in 2012 on this subject.
  • To guarantee the right to a fair trial, repeal article no. 177 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, allowing prolonged pre-trial detention; repeal Law no. 4 issued in 2017, amending the Military Code of Procedure.
  • To guarantee the right to a fair trial, to fight practices of arbitrary arrest and torture, and to protect freedom of expression, repeal Presidential Council Decree 555 issued in 2018, which gives armed groups the authority to conduct counterterrorism and surveillance activities.

2- End arbitrary and secret detention

  • Survey and classify all detention centers where people are held outside of judiciary control and supervision and determine to which authority they are subordinated (Interior Ministry/Military).
  • Locate and categorize all current detainees on Libyan territory (women/men – civilian / military – adults/minors; in pre-trial detention / serving a custodial sentence ordered by the judiciary / detained without legal basis).
  • Establish an ongoing mechanism to monitor the location and legal status of detainees: classification of their legal situation, monitoring their conditions, and ensuring access to them; and providing adequate care and rehabilitation
  • Establish a mechanism for effective oversight of detention centers: classification of sites, ensuring access to them, monitoring conditions, and training staff
  • Enable civil society organizations to visit detention sites periodically, without restrictions.
  • Release all persons detained without legal basis;

3- Protection of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers:

  • Take action to release all those detained for attempting to travel to Europe as refugees and asylum-seekers, and to respect international obligations in this regard.
  • Regulate the legal framework for the application of the right of asylum through a transparent mechanism in line with Libya’s constitutional, regional and international obligations.
  • Strengthen legal protection for migrants who are victims of human rights violations, both inside and outside detention centers.
  • Develop a legislative framework guaranteeing the legal status of those who wish to seek legal residency permits on Libyan territory in order to work, according to the needs of the labor market.

4- Restructure security institutions (reform of the security sector and its governance)

  • Draft a bill on the structure of the Ministries of Interior and Defense, in order to set out a general and abstract roadmap for security sector reform. It must:
    • Determine the respective mandates of the Ministries of Interior and Defense;
    • Define the different sections and chains of command within each of them;
    • Determine the mechanisms for security personnel recruitment, as well as the rules and content of their training;
    • Develop an internal complaints system, to include a mechanism for citizens’ complaints against members of the two ministries, as well as a mechanism for complaints from members of the security sector against their superiors;
    • Draft a framework for trade unions within the security sectors.
  • Propose a draft bill establishing a plan for disbandment, disarmament, rehabilitation and individual reintegration of members of existing militias and armed groups, in the framework of legislation enabling transitional justice and reconciliation.

5- Empowering women and minorities and reducing discrimination.

  • Amend laws and legislation that discriminate against women; criminalize violence against women and end impunity of its perpetrators.
  • Reaffirm commitment to ensuring full and effective participation of women in the peace process within the Libyan Political Agreement.
  • Publicly declare a commitment to implement all articles of CEDAW, and to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in Libya through setting out a National Action Plan (NAP) to encourage women’s participation in the transitional political phase.
  • Protect civilians—and in particular ethnic minorities—from killing, arbitrary arrest and discrimination, by urgently enacting laws that criminalize discrimination, protect minorities, and deter their targeting on the basis of their ethnic identity.

Joint report from Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies the Libya Platform and Aman Organization Against Discrimination: Libya’s Universal Periodic Review

1- General context

Grave violations of fundamental liberties - such as the rights to life, freedom, and bodily integrity – are examined in this joint resport, and restrictions on freedom of expression;  recurrent attacks on judicial authorities;  journalists, and civilians, and medical and civilian infrastructure,  and the status of vulnerable and marginalized  groups such as displaced persons or migrants beside forms of violence and discrimination against women.

Since 2015, two competing legislative and executive authorities – the Interim Government in eastern Libya and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in western Libya - have been vying for international legitimacy and recognition. These two authorities rely on militias and paramilitary groups to control government offices, banks, the Libyan Investment Agency, oil fields, export ports, and airports. In order to obtain the backing of these paramilitaries, Libyan authorities issue official decrees delegating sweeping powers to these armed groups to be charge of security and law-enforcement without any accountability. These groups are then incorporated into the security establishment, without training or any uniform national program. The overwhelming majority of forces serving the GNA and the Interim Government consist of  paramilitary groups and militias composed from armed civilians and tribal elements. This mixture includes armed extremist groups tied to al-Qaeda and the Madkhali Salafis.

The authorities task militias[1] with enforcing restrictive laws, such as the Publications Law, the Penal Code, the Terrorism Law, and the Civic Associations Law, as well as implementing regulations and decrees issued after 2015. Since 2015, the Libya Platform has documented numerous violations committed by these militias. 247 journalists and media workers and over 120 human rights defenders according to the Platform have been targeted by militias and paramilitaries. Paramilitaries have also picked out activists at airports and security checkpoints to question them about their activities, reasons for travel, and political affiliations; many such interrogations have ended in arbitrary arrest and violations of bodily integrity.

Militias have targeted the judiciary as well, effectively rendering it unable to hold individuals involved in grave human rights abuses accountable. Seven paramilitary assaults on a number of Public Prosecution offices and Libyan courts have been documented.  In nine cases, judicial personnel were abducted and subjected to inhumane treatment in connection with their work on criminal cases. Three members of the judiciary were killed, and one judge survived an assassination attempt. The Public Prosecution is unable to arrest suspects or provide any guarantees for victims and witnesses, which has made it difficult for the Libyan judiciary to prosecute human rights violations without interference by militias. Militia targeting and control over the judiciary has rendered it largely unable to deliver justice to Libyan victims, while at the same time, allowing for dozens of civilians to be tried in military courts in eastern Libya without due process guarantees.

Displacement and deprivation of basic security, health, and educational services is commonplace for civilians residing in armed conflict zones. Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers run the risk of falling into the hands of human traffickers or being conscripted to fight or transport weapons around the country, even by sea. They are routinely subjected to torture and ill treatment, beatings, and sexual violence. Moreover, women in detention are subject of sexual extortion, rape and allegations of sexual slavery.

Militias systematically violate the principles of international humanitarian law. Libyan forces do not comply with the Fourth Geneva Conventions, and in the struggle for power, civilians are targeted, along with medical facilities, civilian airports, schools, and oil fields.

2- Extrajudicial killing: All in Libya are vulnerable to death without due process

Extrajudicial killing is increasing at an alarming pace, and with total impunity. Militias and paramilitaries routinely deploy extrajudicial killing during arbitrary detention and often after torturing the detainee. In one incident of many, dozens of prisoners were allegedly tortured and shot when forces subordinate to the GNA Presidential Council attacked an airbase[2] in southwest Libya May 2017; the GNA aligned-forces took members of the Libyan National Army as prisoner; torturing dozens of them before shooting and killing them.

Moreover, extrajudicial killing is used as a tactic by both sides of the political divide when it is perceived that a judicial or legal punishment meted out against a prisoner representing political opposition, be it violent or peaceful, is inadequate.  For example, the bodies of 22 prisoners were found in June 2016 in Tripoli after a court ordered them released, they had been documented as having left the Roueimi Prison.

Extrajudicial killing is also frequently used amid the bloody clashes between the official and de facto authorities in east and west, with the bodies of individuals found at sites where a war crime or bombing was perpetrated – indicating the retributive nature of the killing. Examples of such retributive acts abound.  On 9 August 2019, the bodies of five people who had been shot were found in the Hawari area of Benghazi, near the site of an explosion that targeted the city cemetery. The scene recalled the mass killing that followed the bombing of the Bay’a al-Radwan Mosque in Benghazi in January 2018.[3] On 27 October 2018, the bodies of 36 people, all shot in the head, were found in an area Benghazi under control of militias subordinate to the Libyan National Army (LNA) in eastern Libya: this mass killing was an act of revenge by an LNA-aligned militia for terrorist attacks that occurred in the same area days before.

No place in Libya is immune or safe from extrajudicial killing, including civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and mosques; and the official authorities habitually turn a blind eye, as would be expected in a context where extrajudicial killings are largely perpetrated at the behest of one official authority or the other. For example, a group of fighters in Gharyan, located in western Libya near the capital, were allegedly killed on 29 June at the city hospital; the GNA’s Presidential Council has thus far not opened an investigation, even after its forces regained control of the city. In July 2016, three people were found dead in front of the al-Harish Hospital in Derna after being killed by the Council of Mujahideen of Derna and its suburbs. The GNA also failed to investigate this killing; most certainly because the Council is a militia opposed to Haftar and the LNA.

Extrajudicial killing is not only a tactic used on the battlefield, it is used against civilians as well, especially against journalists and other media workers covering atrocities and crimes committed by the combatants. On 19 January 2019, photojournalist Mohammed bin Khalifa was killed while covering armed skirmishes between forces protecting Tripoli and the Seventh Brigade. Journalists, media workers, activists and other civilians are not safe from the growing extrajudicial killing epidemic outside of the battlefield either. On 31 July 2018, the body of  photographer Moussa Abd al-Karim was found in a public place in Sabha having been shot; a killing that occurred about a week[4] after the paper published a long piece on abductions, armed robbery, and growing crime in Sabha. In February 2015, civil society activist Intessar al-Hasiri and her aunt were found dead in a car in Tripoli, killed by an unknown militia.

 No genuine steps have been taken to hold accountable the perpetrators of these and other killings over the last three years. And due to this complete lack of accountability, no place in Libya is immune from extrajudicial killings. And no person is immune from extrajudicial killing: taking up arms or peacefully expressing an unorthodox or dissenting idea are both acts for which Libyans are subject to death without due process.

3- Enforced disappearance and arbitrary detainment: Exercising power through terror rather than rule of law

State-affiliated militias and paramilitary groups have arbitrarily detained thousands of Libyans and non-Libyans, men and women, and held them incommunicado without charge for prolonged periods. The detainees, deprived of their liberty based on their tribal or family links and perceived political affiliations including politicians and journalists, are not brought before prosecutors and are not given access to a lawyer, translator, doctor, or their families. Those detained arbitrarily include individuals held in relation to the 2011-armed conflict, many without charge, trial or sentence for over six years. These arrests and grave violations are perpetrated by state security groups without any oversight from the judiciary. Even when the judiciary orders the release of persons under arbitrary arrests, armed groups don’t abide by the order.  The official authorities have failed to take practical steps to end these practices.

Abductees are often targeted for perceived political disloyalty, as was the case with 62-year-old engineer[5] Abd al-Nasser al-Maqtouf,  kidnapped by a militia from Misrata in July 2019 with two of his cousins just east of Tripoli and held in an unknown location by a Deterrence Force, an armed group aligned with the western-based GNA. The three men’s militia captors accused them of supporting eastern forces; an accusation not supported by any official or formal charges. They remain detained to this day,[6] with no action taken by the GNA as the legitimate government authority to uphold the rule of law by subjecting the men to due process within Libya’s formal judicial system.

Abd al-Nasser al-Maqtouf’s case is just one example of many cases of abduction, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearance, which have increased in frequency alongside the conflict’s intensification since April 2019. Journalists, activists, and politicians are ever more vulnerable to enforced disappearance and other abuses on allegations of sympathy to one party or the other, or of being traitors to an “international agenda.”

Many of those forcibly disappeared are active in Libya’s public life and are targeted for what is standard conduct in a functional democratic state’s civic space. Abdelsalam Al Hassi, the head of the Administrative Oversight Agency of Bayda in eastern Libya submitted a report on corrupt practices within the eastern Interim Government. Shortly thereafter on 2 September 2019, he was forcibly disappeared by an armed group without charges, and the Libyan judiciary did not intervene to protect him from retribution for simply carrying out his professional duties.

Similarly, a few months earlier on 18 July, Dr. Seham Sergiwa, an MP for Benghazi, was arrested in a eastern based militia raid on her home; her family was assaulted and she forcibly disappeared to an unknown location. The arrest came after she gave a television interview stating her opinion about Libya’s political conflict

The cases of Abdelsalam Al Hassi and Dr. Seham Sergiwa are representative of how the practices of forced disappearance and arbitrary detainment have served to close Libya’s public space, deterring officials from holding the authorities accountable and deterring public dialogue. Inversely with the shrinking of Libya’s civic space, the space for extremism and terrorism has expanded.

Activist Abd al-Mutallib al-Sarhani, was abducted in August 2017 in Benghazi alongside dozens of others for their activism against radicalization and the rise of the Salafist Madkhali sect. The kidnappers were a Salafist group aligned with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army in the east.

In virtually every case of forced disappearance or arbitrary detainment, whether it be for real or perceived treason to peaceful political opposition or standard civic activity, the two primary vying authorities – the Interim Government in the east and the Government of National Accord in the west – have taken no genuine steps to release hundreds of detainees held hostage by armed groups, without any form of due process or judicial oversight. Such inaction by the authorities only breeds further instability, undermining institutional forms of power and justice operating under the rule of law. And when the rule of law is undermined, its antithesis –lawlessness – is bolstered; creating a power vacuum easily exploitable by extremist forces on both sides of the political divide.

4- Militias and paramilitaries block the path toward national accountability

Militias and paramilitaries aligned to the two main rival authorities in Libya have blocked victims of human rights violations from accessing the national judicial system; through attacks targeting members of the legal community, Public Prosecution offices, courthouses, and the Ministry of Justice.

On 9 August 2019, a militia abducted Waleed el Tarhouni, originally from the east and working at with the Ministry of Justice in Tripoli. A few days later, his body was found in front of the ministry bearing marks of torture and bullet wounds.

The Libya Platform has documented several attacks on courts. On 13 December 2018, a militia stormed a Benghazi court to intimidate judges into releasing detained prisoners. The same month, a state-affiliated militia stormed the Aziziya court, intimidating judicial personnel present in the court building and forcing them to release detained prisoners. On 2 September 2018, the office of the Public Solicitor in Tajoura was destroyed during a battle between two militias. On 4 October 2017, Daesh targeted judiciary members in the Misrata court using explosives and automatic weapons. Four people were killed, and dozens injured.

On 24 July 2016, a militia abducted Mahmoud Abu al-Amd, the chief judge of the Tripoli Preliminary Court; he was released several days later. On 12 December 2016, the Criminal Investigations Forces (subordinate to the Interior Ministry) entered the Tripoli court complex and used their weapons to intimidate judicial personnel, lawyers, and seekers of justice. The force compelled all persons in the court to leave the building, interrupting all proceedings.

On 24 February 2017, Nasser al-Darasi, the judge of the Tobruk Preliminary Court, was arrested by the LNA-affiliated Counterterrorism Directorate.[7] On 26 December 2018, an unknown armed group assaulted the chief judge of the Sabha Court Abu Bakr Bashir and detained him for three hours, torturing and abusing him.

The Libyan judiciary’s ability to conduct transparent, effective prosecutions for violations has steadily declined since 2015. Courts around the country considering grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law are unable to begin legal proceedings to prosecute offenders due to direct threats upon judges and lawyers.

5- Freedom of opinion and expression

Articles 178, 195, 205, 208, 245, 438, and 439 of the Libyan Penal Code of 1953, which is still in effect, provide for sentences up to death for crimes related to expression of opinion, in violation of the constitutional declaration and international conventions signed by Libya that protect freedom of opinion and expression.

The media in Libya is subject to Law 76 of 1972 on Publications or the Publications Law, the only existing law relevant to media regulation. Article 3 defines publications as all writings, illustrations, images, and other printed, drawn, photographed, or recorded materials prepared for circulation. The law sets forth arduous conditions for publications and their owners and chief editors, requiring them to apply to the censorship directorate for permission to operate and giving the directorate the right of prior censorship. Publications may not be printed without prior approval and may not be circulated with without circulation approval.

The Publications Law gives the Media Authority of the Government of National Accord and the Interim Government the absolute right to license both print and electronic media publications, private and public, but the authority has overstepped the conditions in the law without legal basis by requesting even more conditions than are required by the law, putting media actors under the total discretionary of  the Media Authority.

Audiovisual media outlets are licensed by the Public Institution for Radio and Television, subordinate to the cabinet of the Interim Government, or the licensing office of the GNA Media Authority. In both cases, executive bodies act at their own discretion, without statutory basis, when granting licenses for radio and television outlets and websites.

  • Arrests of journalists and bloggers

Journalists are denied freedom by the continued use of defamation, blasphemy, dissemination of secret news, and other charges in the Penal Code related to freedom of opinion and expression. On 11 October 2018, photojournalist and blogger al-Mukhtar Ali Mubarak al-Halak was detained by the security directorate, 80 km west of Tripoli by an armed group aligned with GNA, after being summoned and charged with defamation and publishing confidential news concerning state security on his Facebook page; he was held for 11 days.

On 22 July 2019 Internal Security in Ajdabiya loyal to the Interim Government arrested journalist and blogger Salehein Mohammed Saleh al-Zarwali. He was transferred to Internal Security in Benghazi before being released on 1 August. This was al-Zarwali’s second arrest; the first was on 30 March, also for criticism to the continued armed conflict that he published on social media.

The Benghazi security authorities arrested the cousin of Ahmed Mohammed Muftah Busanina, a photographer who used to work for al-Naba television; the cousin was only released when Busanina turned himself in 24 of July 2019. The reasons for the arrest are unclear—the photographer resigned from al-Naba in 2015—and his fate is unknown until this day. The fate of two other photographers remains unknown as well: Abdullah Budabous, from Benghazi, who has been missing at the Kuwayfiya Prison since April 2017, and Ismail Buzariba al-Zawi, from Ajdabiya, who was arrested on 20 December 2018. Their families have been unable to locate or visit them and have asked the authorities to release them.

  • The Foreign Media Directorate and harassment of journalists

Many foreign correspondents have encountered substantial difficulties as a result of the Foreign Media Directorate’s complicated procedures.[8] Journalists say they must currently receive an official permit from the directorate if they wish to cover any event, whether it be social or cultural, or even a campaign against leukemia. Many journalists complain of harassment by security bodies, such as guards at public hotels, who stop them and demand to see a permit, especially if the journalist is carrying a microphone or camera.

  • The Public Institution for Radio and Television and restriction of media freedom

Amid the general suppression of media freedom in eastern Libya, the Interim Government’s Public Institution for Radio and Television in Bayda issued a decree on 24 February 2018 revoking the operating licenses of Radio Wasat and the Wasat media portal,  and instructing government departments not to deal with the outlets on the grounds that they were receiving foreign funding.

On 7 March 2018, the institution suspended the broadcast of foreign FM radio stations operating in Libya, allowing transmission only by local public and private stations with operating permits. The institution said in a statement that foreign FM stations airing locally are considered to be special programs operating out of other countries with other policies unrelated to the Libyan state and its projects; and accordingly, they infringed upon Libyan unity and were biased toward certain political actors.

The institution issued another decree on 17 July 2019[9] ending local authorities’ dealings with eleven satellite channels accused of operating without a license, supporting extremism and terrorism, or threatening the social fabric in Libya. A grave violation of press freedom, the decree represents a system of ever-worsening repression intended to eliminate media freedom throughout Libya.

6- Vulnerable groups

Civilians continue to pay the highest price, forced to leave their cities and live in inhumane conditions as the armed conflict between paramilitaries loyal to the Libyan authorities in the east and west continues to rage, and areas of active fighting shift with changing loyalties and alliances of warring parties. Foreigners in Libya, including women and children, face extreme hardship, with internal displacement caused by armed conflict rampant.

According to the  Platform , as of 24 August 2019, thousands  migrants and refugees continued to be arbitrarily detained by government-backed paramilitary groups, including no less than three thousand people held in facilities located in areas of fighting around Tripoli.

  • IDPs

Children displaced from eastern Libya, particularly Benghazi, is a dire issue that continues to be ignored. Some 200 children in Misrata are still waiting to have their civil registry information forwarded from the Benghazi civil registry, which refuses to take any action, saying that the children’s parents must go to Benghazi to resolve their security status.[10]

In the southern district of Murzuq, 5,315 families displaced by clashes in 2019 now reside in various cities in the area.[11] The IDPs and the Tebu minority both continue to suffer from deplorable conditions: schools remain closed, shops are virtually empty, and there is a severe shortage of medicine and fuel. Security checkpoints manned by eastern forces and their local tribal allies are scattered on the road connecting Jufra and Sabha, and target people based on their identity.

While university studies continue for some residents of Kufra, students belonging to the Tebu minority—689 students—have been unable to continue their studies since late 2015 due to the lack of security. In the southwest, 300 Tebu students have been denied the right to continue their education at Sabha University, al-Asmariya University in Sabha, and the High Institute for Comprehensive Professions since 2014, following conflict between the Tebu and the Awlad Suleiman tribe that has left them unable to reach campuses or student university housing.  The university continues to drag its feet in finding alternatives for them.

Libyan authorities have also failed to offer medium- or long-term solutions and services to persons displaced by armed conflicts before 2015. Residents of Tawergha were displaced in August 2011, when over 60 people were killed throughout two days and some 50 people disappeared. Civilians came under indiscriminate gunfire as they fled the fighting and mortar fire for al-Hisha, located 73 km southeast of Tawergha.

Former Tawergha residents of all ages have been subjected to arrest, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killing. More than 320 have been killed and another 1,200 imprisoned without trial, while over 220 people have gone missing in mysterious circumstances over the past years, according to Youth for Tawergha.

Tawergha IDPs reside in several camps unfit for habitation,[12] and the camps came under armed assault by GNA-backed militias in May 2017,[13] August 2018,[14] and September 2018.[15] The displaced persons have attempted to pressure the Presidential Council to keep its promise to enable them to return. While the council declared in February 2018 that they could safely return to Tawergha, they came under attack on 1[16] and 4[17] February 2018 and 7 February 2019[18] by militias attempting to prevent their return. Local authorities in Misrata continue to impose a full blockade on the city, enforced by checkpoints manned by personnel affiliated with the Central Military Command and the Misrata Security Directorate, most of whom are current and former militiamen. Only a few Tawerghans have been able to return to the city given the total destruction there and the lack of basic infrastructure and services, such as water wells. The electric company in Misrata is also refusing to provide the equipment necessary to complete the installation of electricity.

  • Migrants

Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are subjected to grave human rights abuses, carried out systematically on a broad scale by officials at detention facilities, the Libyan Coast Guard, smugglers, and militias. Some were detained after the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted them as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean for Europe; part of the arrangements requested by the Italian government and enforced by the GNA using the Libyan Coast Guard, with the support of the EU and some militias. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of people forcibly returned to Libya and arbitrarily detained in facilities run by the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate to Combat Illegal Migration.

Nearly 20,000 people are detained in facilities in Libya operated by the illegal migration directorate, part of the GNA Interior Ministry, in conditions of extreme overcrowding and without access to medical care and adequate food. They are also subjected to systematic torture and other forms of ill treatment, including sexual violence, physical assault, and extortion. Whereas the General Directorate to Combat Illegal Migration officially oversees 17–36 detention centers, militias and criminal gangs run thousands of illegal detention sites all over the country for the purposes of human trafficking.

The Interior Ministry of the internationally- recognized GNA based in Tripoli operates a network of more than 20 official detention centers where migrants and refugees are vulnerable to degrading treatment and torture. This is in addition to an unknown number of unofficial facilities around the country run directly by militias. From September 2017 to August 2019, the two governments have issued decrees closing 22 migrant detention centers due to poor conditions; officials at six of these centers have refused to shut them down.

On 2 July, the GNA accused eastern forces of staging two airstrikes on Tajoura, during which a missile hit an uninhabited garage and another hit a detention facility with 120 people inside. According to the Platform, at least 53 refugees and migrants were killed in the attack and another 130 injured; credible reports documented six children among the dead.[19]

Other reports found that after the first air strike, guards shot several refugees and migrants as they attempted to escape. This is not the first time Tajoura was hit, due to its proximity to a military base. Two people were injured in the detention facility on 7 May 2019,[20] during an airstrike on nearby GNA facilities.

Migrants and refugees detained in the Zawiya facility are subjected to systematic torture and other forms of ill treatment with the purpose of extorting money from them. The Platform documented systematic torture taking the form of beatings with various objects (such as water pipes, metal bars, rifle butts and sticks); forcing detainees into uncomfortable positions, such as squatting, for prolonged periods; punching and kicking; and electric shocks. While men appear to be targeted more frequently, including for severe beatings, women and children are not spared. Several accounts also pointed to guards shooting in the air and, at times, at the roof of hangars, terrorizing and endangering detainees.

7- Militias routinely violate international humanitarian law in total impunity

With total impunity, militias routinely violate the principles of international humanitarian law, while the Libyan authorities’ inaction has encouraged the militias to continue committing grave violations. Showing utter disregard for the Fourth Geneva Conventions, they target civilians, medical facilities, civil airports, schools, and oil fields in their struggle for power.

On 16 January 2019, serious violations were committed during renewed fighting in Tripoli between rival militias, with dozens dead and wounded. The incident came a day after Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the general commander of the Libyan National Army appointed by the House of Representatives in eastern Libya, announced a military operation in southwest Libya and took cities in the south by force. Attacks on civilians and reprisals were documented during the offensive. Amid the fighting around Tripoli since April, the city of Murzuq, located in southwest Libya, was the target of an airstrike on 5 August that left several civilians dead. The Mitiga Airport was shelled on 4 August, resulting in the temporary closure of the airport.

According to the Platform, “Four doctors and one paramedic were

killed, and eight medical personnel were wounded. Since the beginning of the conflict in April, a total of 37 attacks have been registered on health personnel and facilities, resulting in a total of 11 deaths, 33 injuries and 19 ambulances directly or indirectly impacted.

The World Health Organization noted on 29 June 2019 that airstrikes and gun battles in the Libyan capital had injured 4,407 people, including 137 civilians, and killed 739 people, among them 41 civilians, including an ambulance driver and two doctors. Eight ambulances were also damaged.

According to the Platform , the civilian casualty toll from the fighting is 178, including 41 deaths, and over hundred thousand people have been displaced. Thousands of refugees and migrants, detained in Qasr bin Ghashir, Gharyan, and Ain Zara, are directly endangered by the conflict. So far 44 of them were killed when in July 2019 LNA forces allegedly shelled a migrant detention center on the outskirts of Tajoura, located 11 km from the capital and under the control of the Presidential Council.

The Libya Platform notes that the armed clashes and endangerment of citizens’ lives in April 2019 did not occur in isolation.  At the beginning of the year, on 16 January 2019, rival militias committed  serious violations during renewed fighting in Tripoli, with dozens dead and wounded. The incident came a day after the general commander of the armed forces appointed by the House of Representatives in eastern Libya announced a military operation in southwest Libya and took cities in the south by force. Attacks on civilians and reprisals were documented during the offensive.[21] An end to military operations in Derna was also announced, following fierce fighting with the Derna Shura Council (the Derna protection force) in the wake a total siege of the city.[22]

The situation in the southwest appears to have become more dire since early 2019 due to the military offensive launched by LNA forces on Murzuq in late February 2019 while tribal elders were in a negotiating session. The assault resulted in the death of 22 Tebu people, most of them civilians, and the injury of more than 35 individuals. The attack also spurred other groups, such as the Residents (African tribal), the Awlad Suleiman tribe, and al-Zawiya to join the eastern forces in the fighting. It is estimated that 94 homes were torched—including that of Adam Mohammed Lino, an MP for Murzuq—and 109 cars were stolen during the attack.  As the first wave of the offensive subsided, attacking forces set up checkpoints to severely restrict freedom of movement and they began to search for social media activists, journalists, and even potential fighters. Thus far, 24 members of the Tebu minority have been disappeared.

In 2019, the Salafi Khaled ibn Walid Brigade, affiliated with the LNA General Command, cut off water and electricity to residents of the Chinese Company neighborhood in Umm al-Aranib, after which they sealed up all entries and exits to the area, thereby forcing residents to evacuate the area. The neighborhood population includes displaced Libyans and foreign refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants.

Recommendations

1- Repeal the following laws and decrees:

  • To protect freedom of expression; and repeal Press Law n° 76 issued in 1972 and Penal Code dispositions n°: 178, 205, 208, 245, 438, 439
  • To protect freedom of association; and repeal Law n°19 regulating CSOs issued in 2001 and all its executive decrees
  • To protect freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial; and repeal Counter-terrorism Law n°3 issued in 2014
  • To protect freedom of peaceful assembly; and repeal Law n°65 regulating the right of peaceful assembly issued in 2012
  • To guarantee fair trial; and repeal  Disposition n° 177 of the Penal Procedure Code, allowing prolonged pre-trial detention
  • To guarantee fair trial; and repeal Law n°4 of amending military procedure issued in 2017
  • To guarantee free trial and protect persons from arbitrary arrest and torture, to protect freedom of expression; and repeal  Decree 555 issued in 2018, by the Presidential Council. It gives armed groups the authority to conduct counterterrorism and surveillance.

2- End arbitrary and secret detention

  • Survey and classify all detention centres, and determine their subordination (interior ministry/military – outside the control and supervision of the judiciary)
  • Map and categorize all detainees (women/men – civilian – military – adult/minor – pre-trial detention – execution of a judicial penalty – detention without legal basis)
  • Establish a mechanism for detainees: classifying, monitoring their conditions, and ensuring access to them, and enabling them to be received and rehabilitated
  • Establish a mechanism for detention centres: classifying, ensuring access to, monitoring conditions, and training staff
  • Enable civil society organizations to visit detention sites periodically, without restrictions.

3- Protection of Refugees, migrants and asylum seekers

  • Take action to release all those detained for attempting to cross into Europe as refugees and asylum-seekers and to respect international obligations in this regard
  • Regulate the legal framework for the application of asylum through a transparent mechanism in line with Libya’s constitutional, regional and international obligations
  • Strengthen legal protection for migrants who are victims of human rights violations both inside and outside detention centres
  •    Develop a legislative framework guaranteeing the legal status of those wishing to regulate their situation within the Libyan territory in order to work, according to the needs of the labour market.

4- Stop all administrative restrictions on Freedom of Expression, Association, Peaceful Assembly

5- Restructuring Security Institutions (Reform of the Security Sector and its Governance)

  • Draft bill on the structure of the ministries of interior and defence, in order to set up a plan for security sector reform, in the form of a general and abstract roadmap, to:
    • Determine the mandate of the ministries of interior and defence;

Define the different sections and chain of commands in each of them

Determine the mechanism of engagement, timeframe, and training content rules;

Develop the internal complaints system (to include a mechanism for citizens’ complaints against members of the two ministries as well as a mechanism for complaints of members of the security sector against their superiors);

Draft the framework for trade unions within the security sectors.

    • Propose a draft bill establishing a plan for individual reintegration, disbandment, disarmament and rehabilitation of members of existing militias and armed groups, in the framework of legislations regulating transitional justice and reconciliation.

[1] On 7 May 2018, the Presidential Council and the GNA issued Decree 555/2018 officially establishing a new unit, the Anti-Terrorism and Organized Crime Deterrence Agency, a paramilitary force subordinate to the GNA Interior Ministry. Article 4 of the decree gives the unit broad authority to use artistic censorship to intercept all “information likely to threaten the safety of the country, social safety, or national security.” Despite repeated allegations of the unit’s involvement in serious human rights abuses and despite a ruling from the Bayda Court annulling the decree establishing the unit on 15 April 2019, the Deterrence Agency continues to control one of the biggest and most important prisons in Tripoli. The GNA has offered no clarification or interpretation of its legal status or its stance on the court ruling overturning the decree forming it

[2] According to Ibrahim Zammi, the mayor of Brak al-Shati. In a press statement, he announced that 74 soldiers had been killed and 18 injured in an attack on Brak al-Shati. He noted that five of the soldiers had their throats cut while most of the others were shot in the head.)

[3] According to information about the incident gathered by the Platform.

[4] According to a source at the newspaper

[5] He was employed at the Energy Research Center in Tajoura.

[6] After several days of searching, their families learned the identity of their abductors (the Deterrence Force affiliated with the GNA). They are still detained, and in early September 2019, the families were able to visit them).

[7] at the Umm al-Rizam Gate, located 125 km west of Tobruk.

[8]  The directorate was made subordinate to the GNA Foreign Ministry by a vague decree issued in April 2017. Prior to that, the directorate had been part of the Media Authority.

[9] Decision head of Media authority, 3/7/2018

[10] For example, F. S. was born on 1 August 2014 in Benghazi at the Republican Hospital and received a document from the hospital confirming the birth, after which his family was displaced and is now unable to return to Benghazi. As a result, the child cannot enroll in school or obtain a passport.

[11] Wadi Ataba, 1,200 families; Ubari, 312 families; Eastern Municipality, 511 families; Taraghen, 392 families; al-Qatroun, 300 families; Sabha 1,380 families; al-Shati, 160 families; al-Buwanis and Tamanhint, 35 families; Jufra, 40 families; Murzuq, 985 families.

[12] The camps unfit for habitation include al-Halis, Qaryounes, Riyada 1, Riyada 2, Sidi Faraj, and several schools in Benghazi. The situation is much the same in Tripoli in the Sidi al-Saih camp, al-Fallah 1, al-Fallah 2, Janzour, and Batarhouna. It is estimated that 2,820 families reside in these camps; the remaining IDPs reside in rented apartments outside the camps in various Libyan cities. The camps lack most basic services.

[13] In May 2017, Warshafana militias attacked the Janzour camp, located west of Tripoli. Eight vehicles carrying an unknown number of armed men entered the camp and began firing shots in the air to frighten residents. The assailants ordered the residents to evacuate the camp in a brief period, after which residents were forced to negotiate to stay.

[14] A group tasked by Abu Selim Central Security, subordinate to the western authorities, attacked the Airport Road camp on 10 August 2018 in Tripoli, arresting more than 70 people inside, one of whom later died under torture in the Abu Selim Central Security facility. The forces demolished the camp and forced more than 500 families to leave within four hours.

[15] On 2 September 2018, several mortars hit the Fallah 2 camp during clashes between militias in Tripoli, killing two people and injuring 15 more.

[16] On 1 February 2018, 15 armored cars and several civilian vehicles carrying militiamen began firing on cars carrying Tawergha families returning from various parts of Libya. Firing light and medium weapons, as well as artillery and mortars, the assailants attempted to frighten the families and deter their return. The militiamen also chanted racist insults and other curses. The families were forced to retreat from the Gate 14 checkpoint, located 14 km southeast of the Tawergha district, to the Nahr Road checkpoint, about 15 km south. The militiamen pursued and threatened them, forcing them to retreat to the city of Beni Walid, about 10 km from Qararat al-Qatf.

[17] On 4 February 2018, the first tents were erected in an area between Beni Walid and Tawergha, known as Ghadir al-Khanq. Militias attacked the camp, setting the tents on fire, chasing residents out, and attempting to detain several people. One woman was injured in the assault, while an unknown number of people lost consciousness.

[18] On 7 February 2018, an armed group led by Selim Abu Shahma, a member of the Misrata agreement implementation committee, closed the offices of the local council, located in the al-Shaab al-Musallah School and attacked a civil servant in Tawergha. They also verbally and physically assaulted an elderly man and woman who attempted to defend themselves after they were ejected from a demolished school they were using as temporary housing after their home collapsed. The elderly man filed a police report at the recently opened station, after which Abu Shahma and his men, on orders from Mohammed al-Haddad, shut down the police station the following day. The incident had a demoralizing impact on public opinion in Tawergha, leaving residents feeling unsafe and with the impression that there was no effective control over militias, especially since some of the militiamen, including Abu Shahma, are acting in an official capacity.

[19] OCHA, “Libya: Attack on Tajoura Detention Center: Humanitarian Update,” https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/documents/files/humanitarian_update_-_attack_on_tajoura_dc_03_july_2019.pdf.

[20] Ibid.

[21] According to information the Libya Platform obtained about the incident.

[22] According to officials with the local council, affiliated with the GNA, and members of the Committee for Humanitarian Affairs and Derna IDPs, at least 1,000 families left for other cities during the fighting. Local officials also allege that LNA forces engaged in extrajudicial killing, the appropriation of private property and looting, and arbitrary arrest when it took the city.

Libya

Universal Periodic Review- CIHRS

Freedom of Association and human rights defenders

Annex

Recommendation

Right violated

Adverse measures taken by Libya after 2015

13737: Ensure that the constitutional framework duly protects journalists, media and civil society against intimidation, threats and assaults, and review the Penal Code accordingly (Denmark)

Expression; association

Draft constitution curtails protection for freedom of expression and association in Articles 37, 38, 41, and 43.

137-115: Immediately take all necessary measures to ensure access to humanitarian assistance and to protect civilians, including humanitarian workers, human rights defenders, and media workers, from attack (Ireland)

Expression; association

In the four years since 2015, the authorities have taken no measures; on the contrary, journalists’ work has been restricted and there have been repeated attacks on media outlets. Civilians and vital and medical infrastructure have been targeted during the armed conflict between militias and paramilitaries.

137-116: Ensure safety of all vulnerable groups, including women, journalists, human rights defenders, and ensure respect for fundamental human rights (Netherlands)

Expression

Repeated defamatory attacks by media outlets inciting against activism and human rights defenders; right of movement has been restricted, especially for women and activists.

137-117: Investigate and prosecute attacks and threats against journalists (Austria)

Expression

Militias, including those authorized by the Defense and Interior Ministries, have systematically attacked members of judicial bodies - with threats, abduction, and murder - particularly against members working on violations-related cases.

137-151: Ensure all human rights violations, including assassination of journalists and human rights defenders, are investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice (United Kingdom)

Expression

Judiciary is wholly incapable of investigating allegations of violations by executive security forces in the east and west.

137-152: Conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists, and hold all perpetrators accountable (Latvia)

Expression

Dozens of human rights defenders subjected to threats, arbitrary detention, and murder with no attendant investigations.

137-153: Investigate the killings of journalists since October 2011 and bring perpetrators to justice (Greece)

Expression

Dozens of journalists assassinated absent any effective investigations or prosecutions.

137-155: Take action to stop attacks on human rights defenders and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for crimes committed, in accordance with international standards (Sweden)

Expression

There are no effective investigations of human rights abuses, and defenders have been systematically targeted by state-backed paramilitaries in the east and west; National Human Rights Council has not investigated assassination of defenders.

137-172: Review Penal Code articles undermining freedoms of expression, association and assembly (Lithuania)

Expression; association

Law 19/2001 restricting civic associations, Law 20/2001 restricting women’s organizations, and Law 23/1998 restricting trade unions and syndicates continue to be enforced.

137-173: Repeal all provisions in the Penal Code and other laws and regulations criminalizing defamation, libel and slander, and ensure that any restrictions on freedom of expression adhere to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Latvia)

Expression

Law 76/1972 on publications, which restricts freedom of the press, continues to be enforced.

137-174: Review provisions of the Penal Code to ensure effective exercise of freedom of opinion and expression without fear of reprisals in accordance with international standards (Luxembourg)

Expression

Articles 178, 195, 205, 208, 245, 438, and 439 of the Penal Code continue to be enforced.

137-175: Take further steps to protect freedom of expression by creating an environment in which the media can operate freely, without discrimination, fear of retribution, or arbitrary punishment (United States)

Expression

Ongoing defamatory attacks by religious media outlets inciting against human rights defenders with impunity.

137-176: Respect freedom of opinion and expression, as well as freedom of association and peaceful demonstration, in particular for rights defenders (France)

Peaceful assembly

Law 65/2012 continues to be enforced; authorities in the west (Martyrs’ Square[1] and Gurji[2]) and east (Kish Square[3]) continue to suppress demonstrations and restrict the right to demonstrate to forward demands to end the war or in relation to any other political controversy.

137-177: Review the Libyan Penal Code articles limiting fundamental freedoms and release all individuals held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association

Expression; peaceful assembly

Law 3/2015 on terrorism continues to be enforced.

General background

The following report examines decrees and decisions issued by the official executive authorities in both eastern and western Libya with the aim of eliminating or restricting rights to freedom of association, expression and opinion. It also cites violations, including murder and torture, against journalists, activists, and human rights defenders. It further discusses provisions in the draft constitution released by the Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) in July 2017 relevant to the rights under review, offering a set of recommendations, both statutory and practical, to protect freedom of expression and  association, in the context of recommendations Libya agreed to implement in 2015.

In the last four years, representatives of Libyan authorities in both east and west have taken worrying systematic steps restricting the right to free expression and association, riding roughshod over recommendations of the international community and Libya’s international obligations to ensure that Libyans enjoy these rights.

As of this year, Libya is enforcing laws broadly violating freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, such as the 1972 Publications Law, the 2001 Law on Civic Associations, Law 65 of 2012 restricting the right of peaceful assembly, and the Counterterrorism Law of 2014.

Since 2015, official and de facto executive authorities in Libya have exploited the constitutional vacuum to redeploy repressive laws predating the revolution; issuing supplementary decisions and decrees to further fetter the exercise- free from executive tutelage - of rights to expression, association, and peaceful assembly. The authorities alone, absent any judicial oversight, have power to license, dissolve, or suspend activities of civic associations, issue permits for demonstrations and assemblies, and authorize journalists, with both local and international outlets, to practice their profession.

These restrictive laws and decrees are effectively implemented by militias and paramilitary groups in southern, western, and eastern Libya. Most of them operate with official authorization from the Interior and Defense Ministries of the Government of National Accord in the west or the de facto authority in the east, known as the Interim Government.

Meanwhile, Libyan activists, journalists, HRDs and judiciary members under restrictions of their rights and continual threats to their bodily safety without even the minimal possibility of accountability or judicial redress. Over the last four years, militias and paramilitaries have systematically targeted some 247 journalists according to Libyan Center for Freedom of Press and media workers and over 100 human rights defenders according to Defender Center for Human Rights. At the same time, the administrative authorities have suspended or dissolved dozens of local CSOs, and militias have targeted activists at airports and security checkpoints to extract information about their activities and political affiliations, often under torture. Armed groups paralysed the judiciary through systematic intimidation and attacks. The Platform documented seven attacks perpetrated on the courts and in nine cases members of the court were abducted and intimidated; three judicial personnel have been assassinated while one person survived an attempted assassination.

The armed struggle for power has greatly reduced the legislative role of the House of Representatives. The House was forcibly shut down and its representatives harassed and barred entry to vote on new legislation. Dr. Seham Sergiwa, an MP, was arrested on 18 July 2019; her whereabouts remain unknown. As a result, the Libyan legislature has proved unable and unwilling to respond to the recommendations Libya received in its 2015 UPR by repealing the aforementioned repressive laws. It has also failed to issue new legislation that would protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, even as the executive authority of both the accord and interim governments have issued decisions and decrees curtailing freedom of expression and association pursuant to laws predating 2015.

I. Freedom of association

Executive authorities have continued to impede the right to form associations, relying on Law 19/2001 on the reorganization of civic associations; Decree 12/2012 on the regulation of associations, issued by the Ministry of Culture’s Civil Society Support Center; and decrees 1 and 2 issued by the Civil Society Commission in February 2016.[1] Executive authorities have also directly targeted several associations by dissolving them, denying them legal status, or interfering in their administration. The regional offices of the Civil Society Commission in several cities have threatened to dissolve associations if they do not re-register under the 2016 decrees. The same threats have been made with regard to new decrees (no. 286) issued in 2019. The Civil Society Commission is currently divided between two institutions issuing contradictory decrees.[2]

Qaddafi’s legal system employed to establish decrees and decisions solidifying executive control over civil society

Decree 286, issued by the Presidential Council on 7 March 2019, constitutes a grave infringement of the right to free civic action, rendering the executive simultaneously party and judge to the dispute and allowing it to effectively curtail the work of Libyan and foreign associations operating in the country.

Decree 286/2019 fetters the operation of local associations and restricts individuals’ freedom to form associations. It requires associations to obtain a license from the administration as a condition for legal personhood and the right to operate, while the permit procedures give the administration full discretion to approve an association and license its operation. Article 28 requires associations to obtain prior permission from the Civil Society Commission before opening a bank account and it permits the commission to freeze an association’s account if it does not follow proper procedure. Article 23 makes it tremendously complicated for an association to alter its basic statute and gives the commission the right to approve or deny any such changes.

Article 25 allows the commission to dissolve or annul an association at the administration’s discretion, without consulting the judicial authorities. Under articles 31–36, the commission has the right, with no need for a court ruling, to evaluate associations and in turn suspend, delist, or dissolve them if they exceed their “objectives” or contravene legislation. An association is only permitted to appeal a delisting or dissolution order after it has been implemented, and its appeal is filed with the same administrative body that made the original decision.

Articles 27, 28, 29, and 32 of the decree prohibit the receipt of funding, including grants and all donations, without the Civil Society Commission’s prior approval. In the event of a violation, the commission can unilaterally delist the association without recourse to a judicial authority.

Regarding international organizations operating in Libya, decree 286 requires prior approval to operate and provides for complex registration procedures to acquire legal personhood, and special permission to open a bank account. Articles 45, 46, 49, 54, and 56 further impede the registration of foreign associations. The Civil Society Commission enjoys broad authority to deny foreign associations registration absent any judicial action and can delay registration by referring the application for review to other ministries. Articles 46, 53, 56, 57, 61, and 65 permit the commission to interfere directly in the administration and privacy of associations, by demanding detailed information about an association’s activities, participants, and donors.

Foreign associations must also obtain a permit from the commission two weeks prior to any organized activity in Libya. The decrees further establish conditions relating to the nationality of a foreign association’s representative in Libya, and the commission may appoint a financial guardian over the association without a court order. Articles 54 and 58 require the commission’s prior approval to receive funds, open a bank account in Libya, or receive support. Article 66 bars international associations registered in Libya from working outside the operational scope defined by regulations and from engaging in any activity classified by the commission as political or security-related; they are also prohibited from engaging with any political parties or entities. Article 67 allows the commission to unilaterally revoke a foreign association’s registration and permit to operate in Libya if the commission deems it to have violated the regulations or exceeded its remit. The administration also has the authority to suspend previously granted licenses without a court order.

The executive authority targets civil society

In November 2015, a representative of the Ministry of Culture in western Libya prohibited CSOs from attending any event outside Libya without prior security authorization. All associations were also prohibited from raising funds for their activities from non-Libyan bodies. In May 2018, the Fatwa Authority in western Libya issued a fatwa barring any contact with foreign organizations except through the Libyan Foreign Ministry, which may approve or prohibit such contact.

During 2018, the Civil Society Commission in Misrata suspended by decrees 29 and 50 the operation of 37 local organizations without judicial oversight; these associations were working in fields such as people with special needs, humanitarian relief, women, children, and development.  In March 2018, the Benghazi Commission required a ten-day advance notification from CSOs to receive approval for any activity organized with international organizations.

In April 2018, a member of the Presidential Council and the Minister of State for Civil Society Affairs suspended the commission’s registration in Tripoli.

CIHRS has documented numerous violations against Libyan associations, including security interference in registration procedures and harassment of CSO members at airports, security checkpoints, and even in closed activities such as training or dialogue sessions.[3]

II. Freedom of expression

Libyan authorities have continued to target HRDs, journalists and any critics by enforcing laws issued prior to 2015, most of which curtail freedom of expression. Law 76/1972 on Publications,[4] for instance, erects numerous obstacles to freedom of the press. Articles 178,[5] 195,[6] 205,[7] 208,[8] 245,[9] 438,[10] and 439[11] of the Penal Code continue to be enforced as well. All these articles use overly broad terms— “infringe,” “insult,” “impugn”—that can be interpreted to fully suppress free expression. For example, expressing an opinion about the revolution, criticizing a state authority, or criticizing the Libyan people’s engagement with certain issues can all be interpreted as insulting and are subject to custodial sentences.

Law 3/2014 on Terrorism[12] continues to be enforced with numerous restrictions on freedom of expression, including online censorship. The law’s expansive definition of terrorism puts peaceful political opposition and independent voices, including human rights defenders and others neither linked to nor supportive of terrorist groups at risk of prolonged imprisonment for exercising their right to free expression.

Generally speaking, Libya’s current legal framework allows for harsh custodial sentences for crimes of expression, up to capital punishment. Laws also give the executive and its security arms broad power to harass and exclude people expressing unorthodox ideas at odds with the ideas or religious beliefs of the authorities or militias. A militia may believe, for example, that acts by associations or human rights defenders contravene religion as interpreted by its specific juridical school.

Decrees and regulations issued by the executive after 2015

The executive authorities issued a spate of decrees and regulations after 2015 that reflect their determination to restrict freedoms. The Foreign Media Directorate with the Foreign Ministry announced a series of new measures impeding the work of international correspondents and Libyan journalists with foreign media outlets, making most of them vulnerable to ongoing harassment, intimidation, and attacks. We note in particular the meeting convened by the Foreign Media Directorate on Wednesday, 31 January 3018, at the directorate’s office in Tripoli, in which foreign correspondents working in Libya were advised “to make their media vocabulary and terminology uniform. The correspondent should consider national security and always keep it in mind.”

On 16 February 2017, the military governor of Bin Jawad issued Order 6 prohibiting Libyan women from travelling without a related male escort. The order was swiftly repealed and replaced by Order 7 prohibiting Libyans aged 18–45, men and women, from traveling abroad without prior security approval, to be obtained via paramilitaries subordinate to eastern state institutions.

On 7 May 2018, the Presidential Council issued Decree 555/2018 mandating an armed group (Deterrence Force) – alleged to have committed serious human rights abuses – the authority to use artistic censorship to intercept all “information likely to threaten the safety of the country, social safety, or national security.”[13]

Militia attacks on journalists, activists, and proponents of free expression

From 2015[14] to the present day, free expression and assembly has been forcibly repressed by militias directly or indirectly linked to both the accord and interim governments; encompassing abductions, assassinations, bombings, lootings, intimidation and threats, armed attacks and raids, detainment, and prosecution.

In February 2015, civil society activist Intessar al-Hasiri and her aunt were found killed by an unknown militia in Tripoli. No effective investigation has been taken by the Libyan authorities until this day.  In March 2016, rights activist Abdul Basset Abu Al-Dahab was killed[15] by a car bomb in Derna. In June and July of 2016 respectively, Daesh fighters are alleged to have killed photojournalists Khaled al-Zintani in Benghazi and Abdel-Kader Fassouk in Sirte. In July 2018, journalist Ali Moussa Abdel-Karim was found dead in Sabha following his abduction by unknown persons after he had published stories critical of militias in the city.

Abductions are  an oft-used tactic to curtail free speech in both east and west. In east Libya[16] in March 2016, militiamen kidnapped blogger and journalist Ali al-Asbali, only releasing him four months later. August 2017 witnessed militia abductions[17] of journalist Abu Bakr al-Bizanti and former prime minister Ali Zeidan in the western Libyan capital Tripoli,[18] the former had criticized the militia and paramilitary presence in the city.

Armed attacks and raids against those exercising the rights to free assembly and speech are also frequent in Libya. In March 2016, journalists were attacked in Tripoli by a militia looting their offices. Some attacks were also deadly; with six civilians killed by mortars fired at demonstrators in Benghazi’s Kish Square. Attacks and raids violating the right to association and assembly were perpetuated by both sides of the political divide for their alleged contravention of religious beliefs. Haftar- aligned Madkhali Salafi militias raided a university campus in March 2017.[19]

Throughout 2016 and 2017, journalists, media workers, and other peaceful critics were targeted by arrests from forces associated with both the interim and accord governments. In eastern Libya, journalists and critics of General Haftar and the Libyan National Army were targeted, often by paramilitaries associated with the Interim Government.[20] Concurrently, Deterrence Forces affiliated with the Accord Government’s Interior Ministry targeted journalists and activists in the west, while militias in both eastern and western Libya curtailed free expression through intimidation and threats.[21]

The arrests continued in 2018 and 2019, with a Deterrence Force arresting journalists Suleiman Qashqout and Mohammed al-Yaqoubi without charge.[22]   A militia affiliated with the Accord Government[23] arrested four Libyan journalists and photojournalists[24] with Reuters and AFP covering migration-related stories.

III. July 2017 Draft Constitution 

The Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) was unconcerned with adequately protecting the right of free expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Article 37 of the draft constitution restricts freedom of expression and publication by linking freedom of speech to its truthfulness or reliability, giving the executive broad discretion to determine what constitutes “truthful” speech. This functions as a conduit to suppress all voices differing from the official discourse and fatwas of state institutions.

Article 38 also did not provide adequate guarantees against custodial penalties for free speech cases. It only prohibits pretrial detention in journalism cases, allowing for laws to set custodial penalties for other types of free expression cases. It also specifies only journalism, excluding bloggers, activists using Facebook and others from protection against pre-trial detention.[25]

Article 41 contains the sole guarantee for freedom of association, barring associations’ suspension or dissolution except by judicial order. Yet the draft provides neither a provision for establishing an association by notification nor does it prohibit executive interference in associations’ operations.

Recommendations

  • Repeal the 2001 law regulating civic associations and its decrees, and issue a new statute protecting freedom of association as is consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • Lift administrative restrictions on the Civil Society Commission, support its technical role, and guarantee against its interference in the operation of associations and its undermining of civil society independence.
  • Suspend the 1972 Publications Law and strike Articles 178, 205, 208, 245, 438, and 439 from the Penal Code.
  • Amend Law 3/2014 on terrorism, to ensure that it does not restrict freedom of expression and association.
  • Lift administrative restrictions on journalists and activists; require paramilitaries affiliated with the authorities in eastern and western Libya to comply with international conventions, international humanitarian law, and international human rights law; and end practices of arbitrary detention, threat, abuse, and killing of journalists and activists.
  • Amend Articles 37 and 41 of the draft constitution released in July 2017, to guarantee freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

[1]  Regulation 1 on local associations and Regulation 2 on international associations were both issued in February 2016. They provide for establishment by registration rather than notice and require the commission’s permission for the appointment of association representatives and the opening of a bank account. Any type of event with any type of participants requires a two-week notice. Prior approval of funds is required. The commission may dissolve or freeze accounts without reference to a court. International associations must seek the approval of the Foreign Ministry, in consultation with the security bodies.

[2] The commission’s administrative board was created under a 2016 decree of the Interim Government and has 27 branch offices, all except the Tripoli office answering to the central commission, despite the power division in the country. On 8 August 2018, the Interim Government dismissed the president of the board, Abir Omneina, replacing her with Ali al-Obeidi. The Presidential Council issued Decree 160/2018 on 2 August also forming the commission’s board, making it subordinate to the Cabinet of the Accord Government. In effect then, there are two administrative boards and two civil society commissions, one subordinate to the Interim Government in the east and another subordinate to the Presidential Council  of the Accord Government in the west; the commission’s regional offices answer to the board affiliated with the government operating in their area.

[3] Cases have been documented in which security personnel have attended closed activities, such as training or discussion sessions - in Tripoli, Misrata, and Benghazi in order to glean information about activities, participants, and their opinions on the issue at hand.

[4] Article 13 prohibits publication of the proceedings and decrees of the Revolutionary Command Council and Cabinet without prior approval; questioning the goals and principles of the revolution; advocating for rule by class or individual; showing contempt for recognized religions and religious confessions; moral offenses or defamation; the publication of the negative side of any topic while disregarding the positive side with intent to mislead the people; and the publication of news likely to lead to the devaluation of the national currency or government loans or undermine confidence in them at home or abroad. The penalty for violations is a term of imprisonment and a fine of no more than 1000 dinars, without prejudice to any harsher penalty in the Penal Code or other law. The law also permits the suspension of a publication by ministerial decree. Article 5 establishes arbitrary conditions for owners of publications, among them that they be a citizen of Libya, Egypt, or Syria; that they believe in the Arab revolution and are committed to its goals and the goals of the Arab Socialist Union; and that they not be charged with any crime at the time of licensing, in total disregard for the presumption of innocence.

[5] Criminalizes the publication of false, exaggerated, or alarmist news or rumors about the domestic condition of the state in a way that tarnishes its reputation or undermines trust in it.

[6] Provides for imprisonment for any insult to the state judicial authorities, armed forces, or Libyan people or any insult to the state motto or flag.

[7] Provides for imprisonment for insults to the nation or its mottos.

[8] Provides for imprisonment for establishing or joining international associations without a permit.

[9] Provides for a maximum sentence of one-year in prison for insulting a civil servant.

[10] Punishes impugning a person’s honor or status.

[11] Provides for a minimum one-month prison sentence for defamation of the authorities

[12] The Terrorism Law employs an overly broad definition of the Terrorist Act, which includes harming the environment and prohibiting or obstructing the operation of public authorities, government departments, or municipal units. It permits persons demonstrating in front of government facilities or staging a strike within them to be charged as terrorists, thereby constituting a direct threat to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Article 15 provides for a sentence of five–ten years in prison for “any person who engages in advocacy, propagation, or deception to commit a terrorist act, whether in word, writing, or any other means of broadcast, publication, letters, online activity.”

[13] Decree 555/2018, establishing the Anti-Terrorism and Organized Crime Deterrence Agency, a new paramilitary unit subordinate to the Interior Ministry of the Accord Government. Article 4 of the decree gives the unit broad authority to use artistic censorship to intercept all “information likely to threaten the safety of the country, social safety, or national security.” Despite a ruling from the Bayda Court annulling the decree establishing the unit on 15 April 2019, the Deterrence Agency continues to control one of the biggest and most important prisons in Tripoli. The Accord Government has offered no clarification or interpretation of its legal status or its stance on the court ruling overturning the decree forming it.

[14] In January 2015, a militia shelled the office of al-Naba channel in Tripoli and attacked journalists, killing some of them. Other attacks followed. Journalist Muftah al-Qatarani, who worked for a media production company, was killed in his office in Benghazi on 21 April 2015.

[15] The perpetrators are unknown.

[16] In the city of al-Marj.

[17] The militia kidnapping of Zeidan.

[18] Zeidan was released nine days after being abducted by a militia subordinate to the Accord Government during his visit to Tripoli.

[19] In March 2017, in search of organizers of a climate change event considered to contravene Islam because it involved fraternization between men and women; in November 2017, 20 people were arrested in a raid on a comics conference in Tripoli, carried out by Deterrence Forces on the grounds of “indecency and moral perversion.” The detainees were released a few days later.  Security forces also arrested and briefly detained four of the event’s organizers, among them photographer Abdullah Douma, who was released the same day only to be arrested again one day later, on 2 April.

[20] In January 2016, a paramilitary affiliated with the Interim Government arrested Badr Rabhi, a local correspondent with Libya HD television, and held him for three days.               In September 2017, a radio announcer in al-Marj was detained for nearly three weeks for publicly criticizing a decision made by Abdel-Razeq al-Nazouri, the Libyan National Army commander in the east.

[21] In August 2017, militias in east and west Libya issued phone and online threats against contributors and editors of Sun on a Closed Window, a volume of essays and short stories, for their participation in preparing “immoral content.” A militia briefly arrested two contributors to the book in Zawiya.

[22] They were arrested on April 29 2018 and released three months later. Their relatives believe that they were targeted due to immodest clothing worn by women, and male-female mixing at an awards ceremony they helped to organize.

[23] The Accord Government’s Interior Ministry at the Tripoli naval base.

[24] They were arrested on August 1st 2018 and held for ten hours before being released without explanation.

[25] The constitution does not provide for the creation of newspapers by simple notification and it does not  guarantee the independence of journalism education, training, and practice, free from executive interference and restriction.

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