Ahead of the Second Berlin Conference on Libya on the 23rd of June, human rights NGO Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL), called on all participants to prioritise human rights, accountability and the rule of law and to establish a clear timeline and benchmarks to monitor the progress made by the Libyan authorities.
In its statement published today, LFJL said the conference, jointly hosted by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the UN Support Mission in Libya, will review progress since the first meeting in January 2020 and discuss next steps towards sustainable peace.
It maintained that any political process aiming to establish sustainable peace must be founded in human rights, accountability and the rule of law. This requires these matters not to be examined in isolation by the Working Group on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, but rather, that they are mainstreamed throughout all tracks of the Berlin process.
Progress has been made on several fronts since the first Berlin Conference. Most notably, hostilities have significantly reduced and a ceasefire has been in place since 23 October 2020. Further, in accordance with the Roadmap “For the Preparatory Phase of a Comprehensive Solution” (the LPDF Roadmap), an interim Government of National Unity (GNU), together with a newly appointed Presidency Council, have been mandated to lead the country towards peaceful elections on 24 December 2021.
However, LFJL said they were concerned that this progress may be short-lived. Gross human rights violations and serious international crimes such as torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructures and trafficking and smuggling of migrants, continue to be committed throughout the country. Perpetrators continue to benefit from complete impunity, with the lack of accountability feeding a cycle of violence and contributing to a climate of lawlessness.
In fact, the NGO continued, the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure has been facilitated by arms provided in breach of the arms embargo established by the UN Security Council in 2011, including by a number of states participating in the first Berlin Conference. This occurs despite the pledge made by these states to respect international humanitarian law and the arms embargo and to commit to a non-military solution in Libya. The sanctions regime established by the UN Security Council to ensure compliance with the arms embargo is therefore being violated with impunity, as documented by the Panel of Experts in its most recent report, in which it described the arms embargo as “totally ineffective.”
The NGO said it was also concerned that a lot remains to be done for the elections to take place successfully. For the elections to take place freely, fairly and safely, the interim executive authority, embodied in the GNU and the Presidency Council, must tackle seven key priorities in the next seven months, including protecting the rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association.
The recent abduction of Mansour Atti Al-Maghrbi, head of the Libyan Red Crescent Society in Ajdabia and civil society activist, is a reminder as to the price paid for the culture of impunity for serious human rights violations and international crimes. It took place amid an ongoing widespread pattern of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances.
Non-state armed groups and militias frequently threaten, attack and kill activists, journalists and human rights defenders to silence dissenting voices. Women in particular face widespread discrimination and are frequently targeted online and offline with smear campaigns and violence for their political opinions or human rights work. The murder of lawyer and political activist Hanan Al-Barassi in November 2020 followed a disturbing pattern of violent attacks against prominent women who are critical of the authorities and affiliated militias.
The NGO said first Berlin Conference failed to address the issue of the crackdown on civil society in Libya despite increasing restrictions on its work. In 2019, the Government of National Accord (GNA) issued draconian restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs), requiring them to obtain prior permission to register, conduct research, raise funds, participate in events or engage with foreign embassies or international organisations. The GNA also imposed a blanket prohibition on CSOs engaging in “political activity” without defining what this term means. Failure to comply can lead to legal liability, suspension of activities and, ultimately, closure.
Far from moving away from these restrictions, the GNU continues to uphold them while taking additional measures further closing civic space. Such restrictions compound the impact of ongoing human rights violations, risking a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association and undermining participation in the democratic process. As the work of civil society is a fundamental component of democracy and sustainable peace, the Second Berlin Conference must expressly address this issue, the NGO said.
Participants in the Berlin Conference on the 23rd of June must identify the concrete steps that they will take to address these issues and to implement previous commitments to uphold human rights, accountability, and the rule of law.
In light of this, LFJL called on the participants to the second Berlin Conference to:
Mainstream human rights throughout all tracks of the Berlin Process including by applying a human rights-based approach to the security, political and economic tracks
Support Libya in the strengthening of its legal and institutional framework in order to ensure accountability and justice for victims;
Take immediate action to comply with UNSC resolutions and enforce the arms embargo by reinforcing monitoring mechanisms currently in place, including maritime, aerial and terrestrial monitoring, and by holding those breaching the arms embargo to account;
Ensure that the facilitation for a free civil society is integrated as one of the areas to be monitored by the Berlin Process; and
Identify a clear timeline and benchmarks to measure any progress made in relation to the final conclusions put forth in the Berlin Conference.