Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank you for your invitation to brief you on human rights developments in Libya, and welcome the ongoing attention given by the Council to this fragile country situation.
Through their courage and resilience, the Libyan people have emerged from 42 years of systematic human rights violations. In the weeks that have followed the declaration of liberation, the challenge before them has been to create the conditions necessary for achieving long-term stability and security and to ensure respect for rule of law and human rights. In this regard, the development and implementation of inclusive, transparent and victim-centred transitional justice policies is essential.
[Examples of positive measures undertaken by the NTC/Interim Government]
Importantly, the interim authorities have repeatedly expressed their commitment to human rights and taken some encouraging steps. In November 2011, His Excellency Interim Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Keib told the media that his Government would “build a nation that respects human rights and does not accept the abuse of human rights”, noting that they need time to put this into practice. In December, the National Council for Public Liberties and Human Rights was established.
In addition, the authorities have begun undertaking the arduous task of legal reform and the adoption of new legislation. Of relevance in this regard is the adoption of a law on transitional justice, as yet to be made public, on which OHCHR had provided extensive comments through the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). I commend the Libyan authorities for their sense of urgency in addressing pressing issues by means of strengthening the legal framework. Before new laws are enacted, care needs to be exercised to ensure their compliance with international human rights standards and to undertake wide consultation on their provisions with all relevant actors and stakeholders.
At the same time, the human rights situation remains of concern and requires increased vigilance by and sustained assistance from the international community.
Undoubtedly, immense challenges lie ahead. The Interim Government still does not exercise effective control over the revolutionary brigades and this has human rights repercussions in a number of areas. Light and heavy weaponry in the hands of these brigades pose a threat to public security and the protection of the human rights of the population.
A related area that I am extremely concerned about is the conditions of detention and treatment of detainees held by various revolutionary brigades. The ICRC visited over 8,500 detainees in approximately 60 places of detention between March and December 2011. The majority of detainees are accused of being Gaddafi loyalists and include a large number of sub-Saharan African nationals. The lack of oversight by the central authorities creates an environment conducive to torture and ill-treatment. My staff have received alarming reports that this is happening in places of detention that they have visited.
It is therefore urgent that all detention centres are brought under the control of the Ministry of Justice and the General Prosecutor’s Office. Moreover, a structure and process for judicial screening of detainees should be put in place immediately so that those detainees held without any legal basis can be released while others receive a fair trial. The Interim Government has made some effort to address the existing legal vacuum. For example, on 29 November, the Minister of the Interior issued a decision stipulating which authorities have jurisdiction to arrest, detain and investigate. In addition, in December, the Minister of Justice reported that the Judicial Police had assumed control over six detention facilities. However, detainees continue to be held in unacceptable circumstances outside any legal framework or the protection of the state.
The situation of persons subjected to internal forced and involuntary displacement also remains an area of concern. The UN estimates that, as of January 2012, 60 per cent of Libyans have been able to return to their homes in the towns of Bani Walid and Sirte after the end of the fighting. However, several other groups are unable to return home for fear of reprisals. For example, some 35,000 residents of Tawergha, who are accused by residents of the nearby town of Misrata of involvement in serious crimes, are housed in camps or other accommodation across the country and many of the men are held by revolutionary brigades in detention, where many have reported being subject to torture.
Let us not forget the situation of women in Libya. Despite some gains for women’s rights in previous years, inequality and discrimination in many areas of women’s life persist in law and practice. Diverse views exist within Libyan society as to the status of women and their role in society. In light of the NTC’s recent decision not to stipulate a minimum percentage for women’s representation in the National Congress, I would like to emphasise that facilitating stronger representation of women in public life will be an essential step towards ensuring that the revolution brings meaningful achievements for women and girls across the country.
In addition to addressing ongoing human rights concerns, Libyans are faced with the enormous challenge of addressing past abuses. These include violations committed during the former regime, as well as violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law committed during the conflict – as documented in the first report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, mandated by the Human Rights Council.
We must not forget that the Libyan people rose up to remove a tyrannical ruler whose regime committed atrocious human rights violations against its own people. Torture, unlawful killings and enforced disappearance were widely practised. Families of the ‘disappeared’, including over 1,200 prisoners allegedly killed in the 1996 Abu Salim Prison massacre, continue to wait for truth and justice to be done. Acts amounting to the mere exercise of freedom of expression and association frequently resulted in the death penalty, including after unfair trials before the People’s Court and later the State Security Court.
I commend the Libyan authorities’ stated commitment to transitional justice processes and mechanisms, which would enable Libya to deal with these abuses, and stand ready to provide assistance. These processes should lead to the legislative and institutional reforms – including within the security sector – required to ensure justice, accountability and reparations for victims, and guarantees of non-repetition, in compliance with international human rights standards. Moreover, international law requires the prosecution of individuals who may be criminally responsible for international crimes.
Furthermore, there remain outstanding questions regarding possible civilian deaths resulting from NATO operations. The Commission of Inquiry is currently investigating these allegations and any findings it reaches will be important in shedding light on the extent to which NATO forces took all feasible measures to protect civilians in all their military operations. Information so far indicates that NATO made efforts to keep civilian casualties at a minimum, but where civilians have been killed and injured, the Alliance should disclose information about all such events and about remedial actions undertaken.
Current investigations by the Commission are also aimed to deepen initial findings into the question of sexual violence, in particular to ascertain the extent and whether cases were linked to incitement by the command of either side. I call upon all sides, including NATO, to cooperate fully with the Commission of Inquiry in the current final phase of their investigations into these and other issues.
In this final phase of the Commission’s investigations, members of the Secretariat and the Commissioners are currently in Libya conducting the last of three missions. On 9 March 2012, the Commissioners will discuss the findings of their final report with the members of the Human Rights Council.
Following the publication of this second report, the focus should be on implementation of all recommendations issued by the Commission. With the support of my Office, the Human Rights Section within UNSMIL, as mandated by this Council, will play an important role in this regard.
In addition to providing Secretariat support to the Commission, in October, I sent two senior OHCHR staff members to Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata on a one-week mission to assess needs and assist in setting the priorities of the human rights component within UNSMIL. In their discussions with Government representatives and emerging civil society actors, particular attention was given to the issues of transitional justice, detention, women’s rights, minorities, and migrants, racism and xenophobia. With the establishment of the Human Rights Section within UNSMIL, headed by my representative, I deployed OHCHR staff members on a temporary basis to bolster capacity and have initiated a consultancy to strengthen civil society capacity in monitoring and advocating for human rights protection.
Allow me to conclude by stressing the following points.
Firstly, urgent steps need to be taken to put an end to current abuses, particularly those occurring in detention.
Secondly, I welcome the priority attention given by the authorities to transitional justice processes and mechanisms, and encourage them to expeditiously make their commitment to transitional justice a reality. The processes and mechanisms must address both abuses committed by the former regime as well as those committed during the conflict by all actors, and must be established after an informed national consultation.
Thirdly, in the major undertakings of the coming weeks and months, the authorities should use civil society activists and organisations, including women and youth groups, as a key resource in addressing a range of social and political challenges. Thorough consultations with civil society groups will be critical in developing lasting solutions to the challenges of today.
Finally, I would like to reiterate my Office’s commitment to continue to support the Libyan people to realise their rights. Working together, UNSMIL Human Rights Section and OHCHR headquarters are ready to respond to requests for technical assistance – for example in the area of legal and institutional reform; to help in consultation processes; to build capacities – including those of key state institutions, such as the police, the judiciary and penitentiary institutions; and to monitor and report on human rights developments.
Ultimately, the task is for the Libyan people to forge their own future, built on a firm basis of respect for rule of law and for international human rights standards.