HRD abducted: lawlessness fuels decline in civic freedoms

The ongoing armed conflict in Libya has created an extremely dangerous situation for human rights defenders. Blighted by a myriad of militias, the patchwork UN-backed government has struggled to exert any real influence since the Libyan uprising in 2011. In the context of this power vacuum, Daesh (also known as the Islamic State or ISIS) are widely viewed to have exploited the political instability to grow and expand their power and influence. This lawlessness, instability and insecurity in Libya has had a chilling effect on human rights promotion and protection activities.


As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, threats to human rights defenders remain a serious concern in Libya. In a recent incident on 30th May 2017, founder of a human rights association and former Deputy Minister of Awqaf, Tarek Milad Mohamed Al Gadhafi, was abducted by Libyan security forces while teaching a class at the Al Abbas Institute. 

Al Gadhafi's disappearance is representative of the ongoing, systematic abductions of activists by Libyan authorities and militia groups. Since his disappearance, the authorities have denied his detention and no information on his whereabouts has been given. 

On 2nd June 2017, Al Gadhafi's case was referred to the UN's Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances which can petition the Libyan government to reveal the activist's whereabouts and fate. There are grave concerns that he may be subjected to ill-treatment and torture and even face execution. 

Given the difficulties of reporting in the context of a violent conflict, threats against activists, in particular women human rights defenders (WHRD), often remain under reported. On 12th June 2017, the regional coalition for women human rights defenders in the Middle East and North Africa (WHRD-MENA) released a new report documenting threats to women promoting human rights in the region, while drawing attention to the assassination of three prominent WHRDs since 2014 - Salwa BugaighisFareeha Al-Berkwai and Intissar al-Hassaeri. The Libyan women were all murdered as a result of their activism. Numerous other WHRDs have been forced into exile for fear of physical violence, abduction or assassination. As WHRD-MENA observed: 

"The chaos that Libya is experiencing politically and security-wise has left women's voices divided, scattered and silenced. As with most MENA states experiencing conflicts of transitioning into democracies security has been prioritised over gender equality...Libyan women have fought hard to enter the political landscape, but their efforts are being hindered by socio-cultural factors and security instabilities".

Peaceful Assembly 

After a year-long drafting process, the first iteration of Libya's new constitution was released in April 2017. The new draft constitution, however, has caused concern among human rights groups that it fails to adequately safeguard freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. 

On 14th May 2017, the Libyan National Human Rights Commission issued a statement expressing its concern that the draft constitution could weaken the state's position on its existing human rights obligations. Though Article 44 of the draft guarantees the right to "assembly and peaceful demonstration," it also includes language that potentially curtails this freedom by permitting the authorities to use force "in case of necessity". Human rights groups believe that the vague language on citizens' rights to assemble does not align with international standards that explicitly protect protest rights and prohibit excessive force.