Defender Center for Human Rights

Human rights in Libya: The second quarterly report of CHRDA – January 2021

Paris – January 2021

The second quarterly report of the Defender Center for Human Rights

(October – December 2020)

An Introduction

On October 23, 2020, the two main parties involved in the Libyan conflict signed a “complete and sustainable ceasefire agreement in Libya,” during a meeting in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations. The first round of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum began in Tunisia in November 2020. This Dialogue Forum, sponsored by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, was based on Security Council Resolution 2510 (2020), which approved the outcomes of the Berlin International Conference on Libya. The convening of the Dialogue Forum represents a significant development that carries with it some hope for resolving the Libyan conflict, which has been mounting for years. However, at a time when the Defender Center For Human Rights (DCHR) was following up the activities of the dialogue, looking forward to announcing concrete steps to end the conflict, start the political process, and immediately stop human rights violations; DCHR was surprised by leaks regarding allegations of bribes for political gain during the activities of the Political Dialogue Forum. News circulated about the involvement of some participants in the forum in an attempt to “buy” votes for some candidates aspiring to hold positions in the government and on the Presidential Council.

The representative of the Secretary-General confirmed the validity of the leaks and announced that the United Nations mission would conduct an administrative investigation into the matter. DCHR and a number of Libyan human rights organizations demanded the disclosure of the results of the investigation, and the exclusion of members of the Forum who were proven to be involved in attempts to corrupt the integrity and results of the political dialogue from the next rounds of dialogue and prevent the candidates involved from running for any position in the government and the Presidential Council. However, the UN mission has not yet announced the results of the administrative investigation, while its rounds of the Forum continue.

A roadmap to hold national, inclusive, democratic and credible elections on December 24, 2021 was agreed upon at the Political Dialogue Forum. On January 20, 2021, the Constitutional Committee, consisting of the Libyan Parliament and the Supreme Council of State, held a meeting hosted by Egypt where the parties agreed to hold a referendum on the constitution before the general elections planned for the coming December. The success of this agreement depends on the earnestness of the parties participating in the dialogue, as well as the need for the dialogue to be fair and transparent, and to abandon partisan and personal interests. This places an ethical responsibility on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya before the Libyan people, who are awaiting the results of the administrative investigation into the alleged bribery and the impending accountability of those who are found to be involved, in addition to their exclusion from the dialogue that charts the future of Libya. DCHR looks forward to Ján Kubiš, the new UN envoy and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, to announce the results of the investigation as soon as possible.

DCHR welcomes the Human Rights Council resolution issued in October 2020, which extended the mandate of the fact-finding mission in Libya until September 2021; for the mission to present its report to the Council during the 48th session. DCCHR stresses the need to provide material and technical support to the mission; and calls on all concerned parties to cooperate with it to accomplish its mission. DCHR also renews its request to the mission to consult continuously with Libyan human rights organizations, and to respond to the recommendations of DCHR and the Libya Platform Coalition that were presented to the mission during the past year.

Civil Society Commission Continues to Obstruct Civil Associations

In light of the deteriorating human rights and freedoms situation in Libya; The Civil Society Commission in Tripoli, affiliated with the Government of National Accord, continued to take some measures aimed at adding further restrictions on freedom of association, stifling civil society and besieging its organizations. The first quarterly report of DCHR monitored the Commission’s addition of a new document to the documents related to the procedures for registering associations and organizations and renewing licenses, and it called this document ‘The Pledge’. This document is one where the founders of organizations are forced to sign a declaration not to deal with foreign embassies and consulates at home and abroad, governmental and non-governmental international organizations in all forms of interaction, whether by holding meetings and conferences, or calling responding to their calls, or signing any agreements, treaties, or contracts in any form except after requesting permission and approval from the Civil Society Commission and other bodies that were not named in the ‘pledge’.

Despite the condemnation of DCHR and many Libyan human rights organizations for adding such arbitrary restrictions on the activities of associations, the Commission ignored the demands of Libyan civil society, and continued to force the associations to fill out the pledge as part of the registration process. This was evident in the announcement by the Department of Local Organizations Affairs issued on December 7, 2020, directed to those wishing to establish a non-governmental organization, which included the aforementioned pledge form among the documents required to complete the founding procedures.

The Commission appears to be seeking to restrict the Libyan civil society’s communication with foreign NGOs operating in Libya, in other ways than forcing Libyan organizations to sign the above-mentioned pledge. On December 31, 2020, the Executive Director of the Commission addressed the heads of the Commission’s branches and directors of its offices; stressing that they must ensure the compliance of foreign non-governmental organizations by providing detailed information about their activities in advance, and within a period of not less than two weeks, including the type of activity, time and place of its holding, data on those targeted by the activity, criteria for their selection, and a statement of the content of the publications. This is in implementation of Article 57 of the bylaws for the work of the Civil Society Commission attached to Presidential Resolution No. 286 of 2019. According to this Article, the Commission has wide oversight authority, not only over foreign organizations’ contact with local organizations, as it granted them the power to prohibit activities allegedly related to political affairs, as well as expanding decisions on the administrative shutting-down of local and foreign organizations. A legal analysis of Resolution 286 and its impact on freedom of association can be found in the DCHR report issued in 2019, on the situation of human rights defenders in Libya, and legislation and regulations on the freedom of founding associations.

The most worrying development is that the Civil Society Commission recently approached the Law Administration, a judicial body affiliated with the Supreme Judicial Council, to seek the administration’s opinion on the extent of the commission’s eligibility to set work controls for local and foreign non-governmental civil society organizations, in accordance with the ‘pledge’ form. On November 4, 2020, Counsellor Mahmoud Al-Kish, President of the Law Administration, responded in detail to the Commission’s survey. The response ended with an interesting conclusion that supports the Commission’s decisions: “It is not permissible for public authorities, as well as eligibility, to make any contact with foreign entities, as specified in Article (27) of Law No. (2) of 2001 referred to except through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” Law No. 2 of 2001, upon which the Law Administration relied, relates to “political and consular work.” It is a conclusion that confirms the findings of the first quarterly report of DCHR, regarding the philosophy behind this ‘pledge’, as the report confirmed that the Commission seeks to deal with “civil society organizations as a hostage and consider them as institutions affiliated with the government, which contradicts the idea of civil society.”

It is worth noting that the Law Administration works to present legal fatwas to public bodies, and their fatwas enjoy the status of compulsory opinion-seeking party, if they do not violate the Supreme Court[1]. The Law Administration, however,  practices binding fatwas based on the text of a regulation that has no basis in the law and is considered a violation of the limits of its mandate.[2]

The irony is that we are about to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the February 17 revolution, while the Libyan civil society is still struggling with legal texts issued under the Gaddafi regime, which is known for its hostility to civil society. While the human rights situation in Libya is deteriorating further, civil society initiatives are being shackled and deprived of the freedom to communicate with the outside world, and its ability to network with regional and international organizations is restricted. Using a repressive legal text issued 10 years before a popular revolution which erupted in favour of freedom, democracy and emancipation from the yoke of tyranny will will harm opportunities for building the capacities of Libyan civil society organizations and building their cadres.

Increased Risks and Threats to Freedom of Expression[3]

Nearly a decade after the February 17 revolution, journalists in Libya are still exposed to many dangers, as they carry out their work under a restricted legislative environment, and face repression by the various authorities in the East and West, in addition to armed groups that threaten, imprison and kidnap journalists, political opponents and defenders of human rights, without deterrence. The first quarterly report of DCHR monitored journalists being kidnapped, threatened, and imprisoned after a military trial. Moreover, the report notes the expansion of the repression of freedom of expression in Libya, to include ordinary citizens who are subjected to searches of their cell phones with the aim of intimidating them from sharing their political opinions and their evaluation of the performance of various authorities on social media.

On October 9, 2020, the President of the Presidential Council, Fayez Al-Sarraj, appointed the journalist, Muhammad Omar Ba’ayou, Chairman of the Libyan Media Foundation, by a decree. This is according to Resolution No. 597 of 2020, which sparked controversy between some independent journalists and some activists affiliated with the Volcano of Anger movement, and the decision also sparked disputes within the Presidential Council. Less than two weeks later, the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade raided the home of Muhammad Omar Ba’ayou on 20 October 2020; after he posted a recording of a phone call between him and Ayoub Abu Rawas, the brigade commander, and wrote on his Facebook account describing the call as a “threatening message.” Then Ba’ayou announced in another post that his home was under attack. The brigade kidnapped Ba’ayou and his two sons and took them to one of its headquarters in Tripoli, and because the brigade commanders are certain they are safe from accountability for their violations; they posted a picture of Ba’ayou on Facebook in great defiance of the authorities and public opinion. The day after the kidnapping, the brigade released Ba’ayou’s sons, before releasing him on November 10. There is no documented information available about the nature of the treatment that he and his two sons received during their unlawful detention by the Brigade. Ba’ayou did not announce that he had been subjected to ill-treatment during the period of detention, and contented himself with publishing a blog on November 11th, in which he announced his intention to seek to extract his rights and that of his family by law.

The Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade had raided the house of Hind Ammar, Director of Programs at the Libya National Channel in Tripoli, on the same night of Ba’ayou’s abduction, and took her to one of the Brigade’s headquarters, where she was interrogated her before being released the next day. It is worth noting that the aforementioned threat, which Ba’ayou received from the commander of the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, was focused on asking Ba’ayou to reverse his decision to appoint Ammar to the position of Director of Programs at the Libya National Channel. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya issued a statement regarding the unlawful detention of Ba’ayou, his two sons, and Ammar. The night of October 20 witnessed the third illegal arrest of a journalist, in which Tariq Al-Qziri, director of the Libya Sports Channel, was arrested after Ba’ayou temporarily assigned him to run the Libya National Channel, after the resignation of its former director who was close to the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade. Al-Qziri was released the following day.

On October 27, 2020, the Internal Security Agency in the city of Ajdabiya arrested the photojournalist Salah Munbeh Al-Zwai and charged him with charges related to his affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Zwai was released on November 5, 2020, after mediation by close associates of officials of the General Command headed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. In eastern Libya, the accusation of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood is a very serious charge that leads to a military trial on charges of supporting terrorism.

On November 10, 2020, the city of Benghazi witnessed a horrific assassination, in which the lawyer and political activist Hanan Al-Barassi was killed, having been shot dead in broad daylight. Al-Barassi was known for her activism against the corruption of the authorities in eastern Libya and the armed groups affiliated with it. This is in addition to her influential presence on social media, as Al-Barassi had been publishing videos on her personal Facebook page criticizing the armed forces and groups affiliated with the army in the east of the country. The last video was published hours before her assassination. DCHR, together with four Libyan, regional and international human rights organizations, issued a statement calling for an end to the systematic policy of impunity in Libya, an urgent investigation into the killing of Al-Barassi, and accountability for the perpetrators. On November 25 DCHR, together with the same group of organizations, filed a complaint about the assassination of Al-Barassi, which was directed to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial or summary executions, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the rapporteur of The United Nations Special Committee on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences.

On November 25, 2020, Tanarout Association for Libyan Creativity in Benghazi issued a press statement denouncing the inciting speech made by the General Authority for Endowments and Islamic Affairs, affiliated to the Libyan Interim Government in the east of the country, for the distortion and incitement of the gathering and its members in Benghazi. The General Authority for Endowments and Islamic Affairs has submitted complaints to several security agencies, accusing the Tanarout group of spreading Freemasonry, Christianity and atheism in the books and films contained in its various cultural activities. Accordingly, the assembly director and his deputy were investigated. The commission also accused the assembly members of moral decay, allowing the mixing of men and women inside the gathering headquarters, and described some members as atheists and devil worshipers. They are all accusations that represent a real threat to the lives of the members of the assembly, in a society that is dominated by extremist religious ideas which are hostile to freedoms of expression and belief. This is in addition to the widespread phenomenon of impunity, which may encourage some extremists to attack members of the assembly.

This prompted the Tanarout assembly to announce on December 3 that all its cultural activities will be suspended until further notice, and the statement said, “We regret to take this measure in order to protect the safety of the members and visitors of the gathering, and to ward off any damage that may result from the continuing campaign of distortion and incitement.” It is noteworthy that some members of the assembly face charges according to Article 500 of the Libyan Penal Code relating to display and trafficking of immoral items, and Article 501 of the Penal Code relating to the practice of acts contrary to modesty and obscene speech.

Journalist Ismail Bouzarbiyeh Al-Zwai is still serving a 15-year prison sentence, after the Benghazi Military Court unfairly ruled against him in May 2020. Journalist Abd al-Salam al-Turki is still in custody of the Military Police in Benghazi since mid-September 2020, and he is being tried before a military court on charges of treason, espionage and communication with the enemy. Since his abduction in July 2020 due to his publication of a song criticizing the political situation in the country after the revolution; the fate of rapper Ali Saad Al-Fazani in Tripoli remains unknown. Activists confirm that he was kidnapped by the Al-Nawassi Brigade, and that he is accused of supporting Field Marshal Haftar, but he has not yet been brought before the prosecution. We note that there are many journalists, activists and citizens who are languishing in prisons and detention centres in various parts of the country, as a result of practicing journalism or freedom of expression. They are afraid to announce the abuses they are exposed to, for fear that they and their families will face reprisals, whether from the authorities or armed groups.

Conclusion

Human rights violations in Libya continue to be committed without deterrence or accountability, and human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful political activists are subjected to repression by the various authorities and their armed groups. This is through imposing legislative, administrative and security restrictions, in addition to continuing kidnappings and detentions outside the framework of the law. Migrants and asylum seekers continue to suffer, as they are exposed to various types of human rights violations and are unable to access adequate health care in light of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. The authorities in the East and West did not provide information to civil society organizations about the health situation in prisons and places of detention. In addition, the DCHR monitored the spread of the phenomenon of torture in various Libyan prisons in the east, west and south. During the reporting period, DCHR documented cases of torture of human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists at the hands of armed groups that dominate the prison administration in Libya. DCHR maintains the facts of these violations, including the names of the victims, the perpetrators, and the brutal methods of torture until the appropriate time to uncover it, based on the desire of victims who fear reprisals against themselves and their families.

In this context, DCHR expresses its deep concern about the neglect of the sustainable ceasefire agreement, which was signed last October under the auspices of the United Nations, to impose a clear and binding program for accountability for grave human rights violations in Libya. It is also a matter that was repeated in the rounds of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which did not produce concrete conclusions regarding the promotion of human rights, accountability for violations and reparation for victims. In this context, DCHR stresses the need for the parties of the Political Dialogue Forum and the international community, to give due attention to promoting human rights in Libya by including their issues on the agenda of the Forum and its conclusions. This may be the right time for Libyan human rights organizations to have a tangible role in preparing for the next political process. DCHR affirms that political agreements that do not concern themselves with addressing human rights violations and holding the perpetrators accountable will not succeed in bringing stability and sustainable peace in Libya, nor will they represent a guarantee to stop the cycle of violence that is tearing the country apart.

[1]Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of General People’s Committee Decision No. 356 of 1993 regarding the executive regulations of Law No. 6 of 1992 regarding the administration of law.

[2]The opinion of the lawyer, Dr. Tariq Al-Jamali, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Benghazi, published on his page on the social networking site Facebook.

[3]The section on press freedom violations benefited from information provided by the Libyan Independent Media Organization.

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