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Libya’s human rights situation is worse than what it was under Gaddafi

April 13, 2023 at 8:00 am

Libyans holding flags celebrate the 10th anniversary of Libyans’ February 17 Revolution which put an end to 42 years of Muammar Gaddafi dictatorship in 2011 at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, Libya on 16 February 2021. [Mücahit Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]

Back in 2011, when the West decided to topple their long-time foe, the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, it needed pretext to intervene militarily in an independent, sovereign and United Nations member, Libya. Instead of one excuse, Washington, Paris, London and other capitals fabricated several reasons to justify their invasion of Libya, including: lack of freedom, killing of civilian demonstrators and, above all, the claim that Gaddafi’s Libya never had a constitution.

Western decision makers and mainstream dominated world media by offering all kinds of claims about how terrible Libya was under Gaddafi and that the man must go because, among other things, he had lost “the legitimacy to rule”, according to former President Barak Obama.

Having some kind of green light from the United Nations to further justify any military action against Libya was not an issue since three anti-Gaddafi world powers – United States, France and United Kingdom – are UN Security Council members with veto power. Even before any thorough independent investigation of what was going on in Libya, the Security Council adopted its notorious resolution 1973 authorising the use of force against Libya. Why? To make it freer, transparent, democratic and allow Libyans to freely express themselves without the shackles of the Gaddafi regime as the West and its propaganda machine claimed. What followed is history and will remain for a long time as one of the greatest failures of the so-called humanitarian intervention imposed on the UN by its powerful members.

Now, 12 years after what became dubbed the Libyan Revolution, not much has changed in terms of state repression, freedoms and, above all, having a constitution. Libya, 12 years after being freed from Gaddafi still does not have a constitution, lacks basic freedoms and its many security apparatus still operate with a greater degree of impunity.

READ: EU facilitating abuses against migrants in Libya, says UN probe

In fact, many people would confess to the fact that. when it comes to personal freedom, freedom of expression and rule of law, the country now is worse than it was over a decade ago. Ali Ahmed, a law graduate student in Tripoli, points out the recently published UN report on the rights situation in the country as “example of how bad” things are in Libya, he said.  Mr. Ahmed said “it is worse now than it was under Gaddafi”. The report he referred to was published on 27 March by an independent fact finding mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.

The damning 19-page document opens by the Fact Finding Mission expressing its “deep concern over the country’s deteriorating human rights situation”. It then goes on to say that there are “grounds to believe a wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity” have been committed by State security forces and armed militia groups.

This is not the first time security apparatus in new Libya are accused of human rights violations and it is unlikely to be the last, either. The country, 12 years after the Gaddafi regime was toppled, is still divided under two different competing administrations, with a UN recognised Government of National Unity based in Tripoli, while a parallel administration, The Libyan Government, runs the eastern and parts of the southern region. Each has its own security structure operating with total impunity.

Alongside this, there are the militias “who are more powerful” than any other government security agency, says Fathi, a legal expert from Benghazi who does not want his family name published. The militias can do whatever they like without any fear of “accountability”, he concluded.

Indeed, the country is rife with armed militias including in the capital, Tripoli itself, competing for power and resources. In many instances, innocent people and foreign illegal migrants are kidnapped for ransom. Highlighting this fact, the report said “migrants, in particular, have been targeted and there is overwhelming evidence” that they have been systematically tortured. It also talks of “slavery” against illegal African migrants. This particular crime has been documented a couple of times over the last decade or so. Illegal migrants taking the Libyan route to cross over the Mediterranean usually face a difficult time while in Libya, and their situation gets worse if they are caught and jailed.

The report said there were reasonable grounds to believe that sexual slavery, a crime against humanity, was committed against migrants.  It highlights cases that the mission investigated in migrants’ detention centres in at least five different locations in and around Tripoli and farther afield where migrants are held in what are supposedly government run centres. It also said that “crimes against humanity were committed” in such detention centres run by Libya’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration in Tariq Al-Matar, Abu Salim, Ayn Zarah, Abu Isa and Gharyan, among others.

As usual, Tripoli’s government has denied much of what the report highlighted, with Foreign Minister, Najla Al-Mangoush accusing the Human Rights Mission of ignoring the “improvement” in the security situation in the country. She blamed the Mission for not being accurate because it projected Libya as a “hopeless country”. She appeared to down play the severity of the crimes because most of them were “committed against illegal migrants who entered the country illegally”, the Minister said. For parliamentarian, Soliman El-Harari, the report is simply “biased” as it ignores the difficulties Libya is going through.

READ: Libya leaders hold talks in Egypt; affirm to announce peace road map soon

The report came in the middle of a crackdown by the country’s Internal Security Agency (ISA) against people and organisations it accuses of “spreading” Christianity and encouraging “young Libyans” to become Christians – an apostasy crime, punishable by death in Libya. Between 25 March and this week, ISA’s website and its Twitter account published a number of videos of people confessing to committing apostasy. ISA, in a statement, accused a US based religious organisation named “Assemblies of God” of operating illegally in Libya and spreading Christianity in the predominantly Muslim country.

Regardless of the facts contained in the report on the ground, individuals and the overall rights situation in Libya is very bad. Forced disappearance, kidnap, murder and extra judicial killings are still wide spread.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.