New PM of Libya ©STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

Libya: New government must prioritize human rights and tackle impunity crisis

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

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International

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.