Libya: Revoking Restrictive Decrees First Step Towards Freedom of Association

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Libya Platform applaud the decision on 4 December 2023 by the Baydaa First Instance Civil Court in eastern Libya to revoke two decrees adopted in 2023 that posed a grave threat to the existence  of local and international associations operating in Libya.

The two decrees in question are Decree No. 312 and Decree No. 7 issued on 22 May and 21 March 2023 respectively, both by the Government of National Unity (GNU). Decree No. 312 created a committee under the supervision of the Prime Minister, to oversee civil society with undue powers to interfere in the work of associations. Additionally, Decree No. 7 gave associations the right to operate only temporarily until they legalize their status under the infamous Law No. 19 of 2001, a relic of the Gaddafi era that hinders the work of civil society organizations.

Law No. 19 of 2001 also contradicts both Article 15 of the Libyan Constitutional Declaration of 2011 and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Libya acceded to in 1970 — both guaranteeing freedom of association. Despite its formal annulment in accordance with the Libyan Constitutional Declaration and Article 6 of Law No. 29 of 2013, Law No. 19 of 2001 effectively remains in force through the regulations based upon it.

The First Instance Court in the city of Bayda in eastern Libya, in response to a legal challenge brought by the Aman Against Discrimination (AAD) and Dialogue for Democratic Transition, has ruled in favor of CSOs rights to form and operate. The court found that the two decrees issued by the Government of National Unity contradict the guarantees of freedom of association stipulated in the international agreements ratified by Libya and the Libyan Constitutional Declaration.

Nevertheless, while the revocation of these decrees represents a major victory, the underlying issue of Law No. 19 of 2001 remains unresolved. Law No. 19 restricts CSOs to social, cultural, sports, charitable, or humanitarian spheres, forbidding human rights work. It mandates executive approval for establishment and grants authorities wide-ranging powers to close, dissolve, merge, or even manage organizations without judicial oversight. The Libyan Parliament’s inaction on new legislation governing associations leaves the door open for the enforcement of the repressive Law No. 19 and empowers the executive to overstep its legislative bounds, creating a major obstacle to civil society development.

The operation of CSOs in Libya remains tenuous given the current legal landscape. Between 2016 and March 2023, both eastern and western Libyan authorities issued seven decisions and administrative regulations enforcing executive restrictions designed to stifle the formation of national and international human rights organizations. These measures have particularly targeted human rights organizations. These regulations leave organizations vulnerable to having their headquarters raided, their activities suspended, their assets frozen, or being dissolved without court order. Notable examples include Regulations No. 1 and No. 2 of 2016 issued by the Eastern Government, Resolution No. 286 of 2019 issued by the Presidential Council in Tripoli, and Resolution No. 5 of 2023 issued by the General Commission of Civil Society of the Tripoli Government. Due to these decisions, civil society organizations are forced to sign a pledge not to communicate with foreign entities without the government’s approval in a way that undermines their work and independence. They must also obtain permission from the Civil Society Commission to receive funding or engage in the implementation of any project.

While the court’s decision  represents a significant milestone, further action is required. Therefore, we urge the Libyan Parliament to promptly consider the October 2021 civil society law proposal by the Libyan civil society and enact a new law that guarantees freedom of association. We also call upon the Libyan government to:

  • Publicly implement and respect the court’s decision, recognize the legitimacy of all associations registered since 2011, and reaffirm the integrity of their legal status.
  • Suspend the application of Law No. 19 of 2001, and any decision based on it.
  • Take concrete steps to create an enabling environment for the work of civil society organizations, including ensuring their safety and security.

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