Libya since the ‘Arab Spring’: 7 ways human rights are under attack

By Magda Mughrabi London,

Five years ago, an initially peaceful uprising in Libya quickly developed into armed conflict involving Western military intervention and eventually ended when Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi was killed in October 2011.

Successive governments then failed to prevent newly-formed militias of anti al-Gaddafi fighters from committing serious crimes for which they never faced justice. The country remains deeply divided and since May 2014 has been engulfed in renewed armed conflict.

Libyans in Benghazi celebrate after the capture and killing of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi. Credit: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images Libyans in Benghazi celebrate after the capture and killing of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi. Credit: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Libyans in Benghazi celebrate the first anniversary of the uprising which led to the capture and killing of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, 17 February 2012. Credit: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Here are seven ways human rights are under attack across the country:

1. All sides have committed war crimes and serious human rights abuses, including indiscriminate and direct attacks on civilians and their property. Hundreds have been abducted and tortured because of their perceived political or tribal affiliation, origin or opinion.

2. Armed groups are out of control. The so-called Islamic State (IS) took over certain areas where it has carried out public execution-style killings, sometimes leaving victims’ corpses on public display. It has also carried out public floggings and amputations, and publicized some crimes on social media.

3. Migrants and refugees face serious abuse. Many are tortured, exploited and sexually abused along the smuggling route in and out of Libya. Others have been detained indefinitely. Thousands have also sought to leave Libya and cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in unseaworthy vessels.  In 2015, more than 2,880 drowned while attempting the journey from northern Africa to Italy.

Street battles and destruction in Benghazi, February 2015. © Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images Street battles and destruction in Benghazi, February 2015. © Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images
Street battles and destruction in Benghazi. © Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images

4. Civilians bear the brunt of the conflict and violence across the country. Nearly 2.5 million people need humanitarian help including clean water, sanitation and food. Many hospitals and clinics are closed, damaged or inaccessible due to the fighting. Around 20% of children in Libya are not able to go to school.

5. Free speech is under attack. Journalists, human rights activists and NGO workers have been threatened, abducted and assassinated by various armed groups. TV stations have been vandalized, set ablaze and attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. Reporters Without Borders recorded more than 30 attacks against journalists between January and November 2015.

6. Women’s rights are in retreat. Women activists have been intimidated and threatened, and women travelling without a male companion have been harassed by militias. New laws discriminated against women even further, for example by making child marriage easier and allowing men to divorce their wives without obtaining court approval.

7. The legal system is barely functioning. Courts in some cities are closed because it’s so dangerous, and judges and lawyers have been attacked and abducted. Thousands of people seen as being loyal to al-Gaddafi have been detained for years without charge or trial. The trial of 37 former officials for alleged war crimes and other offences was deeply flawed, including its failure to investigate allegations of torture of the defendants.