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UN rights chief Zeid condemns attacks on human rights defenders in Libya

GENEVA (14 October 2014) – Human rights defenders, political activists, bloggers and media professionals have been under increasing attack from armed groups in Libya since mid-May, when fighting between rival factions intensified in and around Benghazi and later erupted in Tripoli, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned Tuesday.

High Commissioner Zeid said UN human rights staff had received numerous reports of intimidation, harassment, abductions and murder of members of civil society, causing some human rights defenders to flee the country while others have curtailed their activism or gone into hiding, seeking protection for themselves and their families. Individuals have been shot in the street while going to work or coming out of mosques after prayers. Many have received text messages or have been the subject of social media posts threatening them or their families with death, abduction or rape.

“The work of civil society activists, journalists and human rights defenders is particularly crucial in the context of the ongoing conflict in Libya,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “Victims of human rights violations and abuses in Libya rely on these important actors to document and draw attention to their plight. The climate of fear created by such attacks, coupled with the total impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, threatens to silence the few independent voices emerging from within the country.”

In Benghazi, 10 people were murdered in a single day on 19 September, including two prominent young civil society activists, Tawfik Bensaud, 18, and Sami al-Kawafi, 17. Since May, a number of other prominent public figures have been killed in the city, including newspaper editor Muftah Abu Zeid and lawyer and human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis. In Derna, East of Benghazi, lawyer Usama al-Mansuri was killed on 6 October, apparently after publicly criticizing a declaration by armed groups in the town pledging allegiance to the so-called ISIL.

Similarly, in Tripoli, since July a number of activists and other public figures have been abducted, received threats or had their homes looted or burned. One prominent human rights defender received text messages warning him to stop his advocacy work or else his children would be abducted and killed.

Women activists are particularly vulnerable and pressured to abandon public roles. One rights advocate reported that she had received several calls from armed groups warning that if she continued writing on women’s rights, she and her children would be killed. She and her family have since left the country. In another case a human rights advocate and lawyer who had taken part in a public debate on women's rights received anonymous phone calls and text messages warning her that she would be abducted and killed.

Several human rights and political activists have also been targeted on social media. In one case, an activist was abducted soon after he was threatened on Facebook.

Media professionals also continue to be targeted. A journalist in Tripoli reportedly left the country after receiving death threats on social media, as well as threats against his family. Another was abducted for four days in September. On 10 October, Mu’adh al-Thlib, a journalist with al-Aseema Television, was abducted in Tripoli and released three days later. On 8 October, al-Mu’tasem al-Warfalli, a journalist with the Libya al-Watan radio station, was shot dead in Benghazi.

“I condemn these attacks, which are taking place with impunity, with police officers, prosecutors and judges themselves being targeted by armed groups,” High Commissioner Zeid said. He urged the Libyan authorities to take all possible measures to undertake prompt, thorough and impartial investigations, to hold those found responsible to account, and to ensure an effective remedy for victims.

The High Commissioner added that the authorities should also do everything in their power to ensure adequate protection of victims, witnesses and officials supporting the administration of justice, as efforts continue towards establishing a sustainable ceasefire and political dialogue.

Zeid warned the armed groups exercising effective control on the ground in Libya that their members and leadership are accountable under Libyan and international law for the abuses they are committing or failing to stop.

“Attacks against civilians are war crimes,” Zeid stressed, noting that the International Criminal Court continues to have jurisdiction over such crimes in Libya.

On 27 August, the Security Council adopted resolution 2174 on the situation in Libya, deciding that asset freeze and travel ban measures shall apply to listed individuals or entities that plan, commit, or direct acts that violate international human rights and humanitarian law, or that constitute human rights abuses.


For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 /rcolville@ohchr.org ) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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