Libya’s recently installed Government of National Unity (GNU) must address the human rights crisis across the country, break the cycle of impunity and re-establish rule of law, Amnesty International said today.
In a letter to the GNU, which has faced tremendous challenges since taking office in mid-March to unify institutions in a deeply divided and conflict-torn country, the organization highlighted key areas that the new government must urgently address.
The priorities include reining in militias and armed groups responsible for abductions, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, forced displacement, looting and other crimes.
“For 10 years, since Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s 42-year repressive rule ended in 2011, armed conflict and lawlessness have haunted civilians in Libya. People’s daily lives have been upended by rival militias and armed groups who have committed war crimes and human rights abuses with impunity. The advent of the Government of National Unity provides a vital opportunity to reset the political agenda and put human rights at the heart of it, in order to begin healing a country reeling from a decade of bloodshed, chaos and rights abuses,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
The advent of the Government of National Unity provides a vital opportunity to reset the political agenda and put human rights at the heart of it, in order to begin healing a country reeling from a decade of bloodshed, chaos and rights abuses.
The GNU has struggled to exert its full control over the country, which for many years has been ruled by unaccountable armed groups and militias, and in which foreign fighters backed by Turkey, Russia and UAE continue to operate.
The Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), an armed group in control of much of eastern Libya, claimed in a statement on 27 April to be under no obligation to answer to the GNU, after a planned trip by the GNU’s Prime Minister to Benghazi was cancelled.
In an alarming revelation, the Libyan minister of foreign affairs told Italian parliamentarians in Rome on 23 April that the Libyan government has been discussing amnesties for commanders of militias and armed groups.
“Successive governments have sought to appease powerful and unruly militias, and secure their loyalty through showering them with praise, high-level positions and legitimacy. The same mistake should not be made again.
Amnesties for war crimes and other crimes under international law would only further embolden such actors and entrench their stranglehold on the country and are contrary to international law,” said Diana Eltahawy.
“Any attempts to integrate members of militias or armed groups must involve rigorous and thorough individual vetting. Those reasonably suspected of war crimes and serious human rights violations must be removed from positions of power or responsibility, pending criminal investigations and prosecutions.”
In its letter, Amnesty International also called on the GNU, which is tasked with laying the ground for presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 24 December 2021, to ensure non-discrimination and equal rights to participate in political and public life for all Libyans and uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“The GNU must ensure that groups that have long suffered marginalization and entrenched discrimination, including women, ethnic minorities and internally displaced people can meaningfully participate in political and public life and be protected from violence, coercion and intimidation by armed groups and militias,” said Diana Eltahawy.
In its nine-point human rights agenda Amnesty International called on the GNU to:
- Rein in militias and armed groups and combat impunity
- Co-operate with UN mechanisms such as the Fact-Finding Mission established to investigate human rights violations
- End arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and unfair trials
- Respect and protect the rights to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly
- Protect the rights of migrants and refugees
- Take measures to facilitate the return of internally displaced people
- Combat all forms of sexual and other gender-based violence and discrimination
- Take measures to ensure equal access to adequate health care
- Take steps towards abolishing the death penalty
The international community also has a key role to play by respecting and enforcing the UN arms embargo, ensuring the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from Libya and supporting efforts to establish accountability, including through the International Criminal Court and the UN Fact-Finding Mission.
No response from the GNU to Amnesty International’s letter was received in time for publication.
Extrajudicial Killings, Arbitrary Detentions, Migration Crisis
Armed groups and some forces affiliated with two rival Libyan governments vying for legitimacy are committing rampant abuses against Libyans and foreigners with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2018.
Since the eruption of pitched conflict in May 2014, armed groups unlawfully killed, disappeared, tortured, forcibly displaced, and arbitrarily detained and kidnapped people, for political, economic, or criminal motives.
Hundreds of thousands of Libyans remained internally displaced, while armed groups and criminals exploited and subjected to violence thousands of migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.
“The migration crisis in the central Mediterranean shows the rest of the world that it is ignoring Libya’s human rights disaster at its own peril,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Stabilizing the situation in Libya requires establishing some measure of accountability for the rampant abuse being committed by various actors.”
In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas.
When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.
Armed conflicts since 2014 resulted in the collapse of central authority. Key institutions, most notably law enforcement and the judiciary, are dysfunctional in most parts of the country, virtually guaranteeing domestic impunity.
On May 18, forces aligned with the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) attacked an airbase controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is affiliated with the Interim Government in eastern Libya, summarily executing 51 individuals, mostly captured fighters.
On August 15, the International Criminal Court prosecutor issued an arrest warrant, its first for crimes committed since the 2011 uprising in Libya, against LNA special forces commander Mahmoud al-Werfalli, after the emergence of videos implicating him in apparent summary executions in eastern Libya.
In October, the bodies of 36 men were found in the eastern town of al-Abyar, apparently executed summarily by armed groups loyal to the LNA.
Both Libya’s justice ministry and various armed groups linked with the interior and defense ministries of both governments held thousands of Libyans in long-term arbitrary detention.
According to the judicial police, only 25 percent of the 6,400 held in justice ministry facilities had been sentenced; the rest were in pre-charge or pretrial detention.
At least 20,000 people from Benghazi remained forcibly displaced, mostly since 2014. LNA forces prevented them from returning to their homes, accusing whole families of “terrorism,” while subjecting them to abuses including seizing their private property.
Armed groups from Misrata continued to collectively punish 35,000 residents of Tawergha by preventing them from returning to their homes, accusing them of war crimes in 2011, despite a UN-brokered agreement between the parties.
The GNA announced on December 26, that displaced residents of Tawergha would be allowed to return to their town from February 1, 2018.
Militias, smugglers, and guards in detention centers subjected thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who continued to flock to Libya, most hoping to reach Europe by sea, to beatings, sexual violence, and forced labor.
During interceptions at sea, Libyan coast guard forces ill-treated migrants before sending them to detention centers where conditions were inhumane.