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Libya's Human Rights Defenders Under Attack

A Libyan military soldier fires his weapon during clashes with Islamic extremist militias in Benghazi, Libya. (File)

Libya has been in turmoil since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Mohammar Kadhafi.

Libya has been in turmoil since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Mohammar Kadhafi. It has had two parliaments and governments since Tripoli was seized in August 2014 by the Fajr Libya militia coalition and the internationally recognized government fled to the country’s far east.

Libya's Human Rights Defenders Under Attack
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There are an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 armed Libyans, creating a volatile and dangerous situation throughout Libya. These armed groups have targeted human rights defenders seeking to shed light on and address human rights violations and abuses. According to a recent report released by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, attacks, including killings, abductions, torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful deprivation of liberty and death threats against rights workers have been documented since the escalation of fighting began in May 2014.

Most recently, prominent civil society activist Entissar al-Hassaeri was shot dead in Tripoli. Her body and that of her aunt were found in the trunk of her car on February 23. Two members of the National Commission for Human Rights-Libya, a human rights NGO, were abducted on February 13 and 14 in central Tripoli. Both have since been released, but other human rights defenders and members of civil society remain missing or have gone into hiding.

Given the increased dangers, many Libyan human rights workers have fled the country, fallen silent, or have been forced to work in secret at great risk to themselves.

The deepening security and political crisis in Libya has resulted in the disintegration of rule of law, paralyzing these and any other efforts to prevent such attacks from occurring. Efforts to investigate these cases of targeted attacks against rights defenders have been met with threats and in some cases abduction of members of the judiciary.

It is critical for Libya to resume building state institutions, particularly law enforcement agencies and the overall justice system. It is also necessary for all sides to condemn attacks against civil society members. The report calls on neighboring countries and the international community to ensure the protection of Libyan human rights defenders, including by issuing emergency visas and providing temporary shelter.

Libyan authorities and those with effective control on the ground must immediately take action to stop attacks on human rights defenders and create an environment for them to conduct their indispensable work for the protection and promotion of human rights in Libya.