Five years on from the uprising that brought an end to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s rule, Libya is still struggling to emerge from a maelstrom of human rights abuses. Urgent and sustained international support is needed to help end the cycle of chaos gripping Libya, and the international community has a duty to ensure that a light is shone on the rampant abuses that have occurred.
The international community has been actively engaged in a peace process aimed at ending the fighting and forming a unity government. However, accountability for countless war crimes and other serious human rights abuses during spiralling violence is still elusive. Urgent International funding to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in the country is also desperately needed.
"World leaders, particularly those who took part in the NATO intervention that helped to overthrow Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011 have a duty to ensure that those responsible for the horrors that have unfolded in Libya in its wake are held to account,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
"Over the past five years Libya has descended deeper into the abyss of human rights chaos, amid lawlessness, rampant abuse and war crimes by rival armed groups and militias, and the rising threat posed by the armed group calling itself Islamic state (IS). Restoring the rule of law must go hand in hand with justice for widespread crimes and vital humanitarian support. The world must not fail Libyans in their hour of need."
While France, Italy, Canada, USA, UK and other world powers eagerly got involved in the NATO intervention that helped overthrow Colonel al-Gaddafi in 2011 they have woefully failed to address the rampant abuses in Libya or push for investigations of these crimes.
Today Libya is plagued by clashes between rival militias and armed groups and is split between two governments - neither of which has effective control on the ground. A proposed Government of National Accord put forward this week by an internationally-backed presidency council is yet to be voted on by the House of Representatives. Parts of Benghazi, where crowds of protesters gathered in 2011, has been reduced to rubble.
The scale of abuse is staggering. Forces on all sides have carried out hundreds of abductions, taken hostages, tortured, ill-treated and summarily killed detainees, and launched indiscriminate attacks on residential areas in some cases amounting to war crimes.
Forces loyal to IS, have exploited the power vacuum created by the conflict to seize control of areas where they have terrorized the civilian population by enforcing their own interpretation of Islamic Law. They have carried out public lynchings - leaving victims’ corpses on display, as well as public floggings and amputations, and imposed a strict Islamic dress code on women. Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya have also faced abduction, extortion, torture and sexual violence by smugglers and traffickers, as well as armed groups.
Protracted peace process
A UN mediated peace deal brokered last December to end the violence plaguing Libya and form a Government of National Accord was backed by the international community as an effective means to create a centralized government capable of halting IS advances and tackling irregular migration to Europe. The agreement contains strong human rights provisions and accountability measures. However, although the agreement was signed by all sides, its implementation is conditional on the formation of a unity government and restoring the rule of law. “The international community cannot endlessly wait for a political process to succeed while ignoring the rights of hundreds of thousands of civilians who have suffered as a result of human rights abuses. Restoring the rule of law in Libya is key, but is likely to take years. It must be accompanied by international justice for crimes under international law and immediate humanitarian measures to help victims of the conflict,” said Said Boumedouha.
Libya's justice system has largely collapsed meaning that widespread abuses have gone completely unpunished. Lawyers, judges, activists and human rights defenders face constant threats and attacks. Amnesty International is not aware of a single militia member who has been prosecuted for human rights abuses since 2011.
In February 2011, the Security Council unanimously referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC) following reports of “gross and systematic violation of human rights” by Colonel al-Gaddafi’s forces. However, the ICC has repeatedly failed to open new investigations citing instability in Libya and a lack of resources. More can be done however, to gather and preserve evidence from outside of Libya’s borders where thousands of victims and witnesses have fled in different waves since 2011, including since the start of the ongoing conflicts.
Although the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has recently requested resources for additional investigations, she indicated that it was unlikely that her request would be met.
“The International Criminal Court offers a much needed path for accountability in Libya. Given the vacuum of justice in Libya it is even more crucial that work to implement the peace deal is accompanied by international investigations to ensure those responsible for heinous crimes are held to account.”
“A referral to the International Criminal Court without the adequate political and financial support for investigations sends the wrong message to victims and perpetrators. States must increase their support to the International Criminal Court to finally enable it to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Libya. Perpetrators of crimes, including the vast web of militias in Libya, must be shown that they cannot continue to commit crimes with impunity,” said Said Boumedouha.
UN Security Council resolutions, which place targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, against those involved in committing violations and human rights abuses have so far not been implemented.
Escalating humanitarian crisis
In the meantime, abuses have continued and the humanitarian situation has sharply deteriorated. According to UN estimates, the violence has affected some 2.5 million people, and displaced more than 430,000. It has also disrupted access to hospitals, schools and basic services such as power, water and sanitation. However, a UN humanitarian appeal to provide basic services to 1.3 million people in Libya, including medical care, education and protection to refugees and migrants, has just one percent of the funds it requires.
“The international community must not ignore the humanitarian plight of Libya’s people. It is crucial that world powers do not turn their backs on the suffering of countless Libyan civilians and they must meet the requirements of the UN humanitarian appeal,” said Said Boumedouha.
Amnesty International is also calling on the international community to increase its support to people in need of protection by providing safe and legal routes out of the conflict. Since 2014, hundreds of thousands of civilians, including Libyans but also migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees have fled abroad. Many are victims of abuses such as abductions, attempted assassinations or have faced threats.
Most often they have gone to Tunisia, where many have struggled to find work and survive. Without residence papers and means to sustain themselves, some were forced to return to Libya, and continue to be at risk of abuse. Those who have fled the conflict to Europe have been confronted by a broken asylum system and been waiting for months for their claims to be processed.
“The international community must share in the burden of addressing the crisis, and offer vital assistance to those in need of international protection by providing safe and legal routes for them to safety, including by issuing humanitarian visas and facilitating temporary relocation,” said Said Boumedouha.