International spotlight on continuous abuse and intimidation of human rights defenders


As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the newly-drafted Libyan constitution has sparked concern among freedom of speech advocates. In particular, criticism has focused on the vague wording of articles 37 and 38, which are considered by some as being insufficient in ensuring freedom of expression and independence of the media in Libya. On 2nd November 2017, several domestic and international civil society groups issued a statement on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists and called for the draft to be amended to align with international standards on freedom of expression. 

Despite efforts by civil society groups working to promote freedom of information, expression and opinion, the situation for journalists in Libya remains dangerous. In a recent example on 1st November 2017, a social activist and radio presenter was arrested in Al-Jufra after participating in a protest. Zubair Al-Houni was detained after joining a mobilisation outside Al-Jufra Municipal Council on 29th October 2017 to reopen a gynecology and maternity department at a local hospital. Sources close to Al-Houni claim local authorities masterminded his detention after he used his radio show to openly criticise municipal services, as well as campaigning for the Municipal Council's dismissal on the basis of its poor performance. 

In a separate incident on 11th October 2017, six journalists were detained and arrested the same day by the Libyan National Army. The journalists had arrived in Hun to cover the annual date festival when they were arrested by security forces. The security officers told the journalists that they did not understand how "banned" journalists had been able to enter the town. While the six reporters were later released, the unwarranted harassment is emblematic of the precarious situation for journalists in Libya. 


In a landmark visit ending on 12th October 2017, the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights completed an official trip to Libya. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is the first UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the nation and highlight the myriad issues facing human rights defenders and civil society actors, particularly since the fall of the Gaddafi regime.  

After meeting Libyan civil society activists and women human rights defenders, The Commissioner raised the issue of the devastating impact of indiscriminate lethal by armed groups on civilians, often committed with complete impunity. He also called upon the Libyan authorities to address the practice of arbitrary detention. In a statement following the visit, Al Hussein declared: 

"The consequences of impunity could not have been more starkly demonstrated when talking to human rights defenders. Human rights defenders told me about intimidation and attacks against them and the lack of protection and impunity for such attacks. I heard how women human rights defenders have faced virulent abuse and intimidation, and how civil society activists have been abducted and killed by armed groups. Many have been forced to flee or to stop their work".
Hostilities towards NGO efforts for migrants

Given the strong political backlash against migrants entering Europe, NGOs operating migrant rescue missions were forced to cease operations in August after clashing with Libyan coastguards. Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and Sea Eye halted all rescue missions over the summer after facing increasing hostility from Libyan authorities leading to rising safety concerns for crew members. 

 In keeping with the European Union's (EU) policy of stemming the flow of migration to European shores, EU assistance to Libyan authorities also drew sharp criticism from Al Hussein. With controversial assistance from EU states, Libyan authorities' interception of illegal crossings and detention of migrants has led to 19,900 people currently being held in Libyan detention centres. Given the state of the detention centres and hostilities towards NGO-led efforts on behalf of migrants, the Commissioner called on both the EU and Libyan authorities to uphold human rights while working with civil society groups.