LFJL calls for government response to the deaths of unarmed protestors

November 18, 2013

Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) strongly condemns the deadly attacks by militia groups against demonstrators and civilians on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 November 2013 in Tripoli. LFJL sends its sincerest condolences to the families of those killed. LFJL is severely disappointed by the government’s response to the ongoing violence and its failure to take appropriate action to meet its legal obligations to protect civilians from such attacks.

On Friday 15 November 2013 around 500 were injured and over 40 were killed during a demonstration outside the headquarters of the militias predominantly from Gharhour, Tripoli. An eyewitness confirmed to LFJL that when the militiamen opened fire the protestors were unarmed and some were holding white flags as a symbol of their peaceful intent. Militiamen and fighters were also responsible for indiscriminate gunfire on Saturday 16 November 2013, leaving one dead and three injured in the suburb of Tajoura. It was also reported that a group of armed men attacked the displaced Tawergha residents of Tripoli’s al-Fallah camp on Saturday, leaving at least one man dead and several injured. These attacks constitute some of worst fighting since the 2011 revolution and threaten to escalate and renew the conflict in Libya.

Freedom of assembly and the right to personal safety are fundamental human rights. It is the responsibility of all governments to ensure the safety of civilian populations. Beyond a statement calling for “restraint and a halt to clashes” from the Libyan Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, the Libyan government has failed to take substantive action in response to the attacks.  Elham Saudi, LFJL Director, said “Zeidan’s statement was an insufficient response. It was the statement of a distant observer and not a responsible official.  Half-hearted words are not enough to ensure peace and prevent future attacks, nor do they fulfil the government’s international legal responsibilities. ”

“The Libyan government’s argument for inaction and for not disarming these groups is the desire to avoid confrontation and to prevent violence.  This is an unacceptable strategy and one that has proven to be in effective.  It is also one that has cultivated the culture of impunity when it comes to human rights violations, “ added Saudi.  It is through such inaction that non-state actors, such as militias, gain their de facto sense of legitimacy. After allowing these militias to carry out state functions unchecked for several months, the Libyan government is responsible for the atrocities committed against the peaceful and unarmed public over the weekend. It cannot now renounce responsibility for these unaccountable groups. 

The demonstrations over the weekend show the increasing public discontent with militia groups in Libya. “The Libyan government must act on behalf of this peaceful majority, rather than constantly appeasing the demands of a violent minority,” said Saudi.

In order to ensure the protection of inalienable human rights, LFJL urges the Libyan government immediately to remove militias from Tripoli and state institutions as decreed by decision 27 of the General National Congress (GNC). The government must also ensure that all non-state armed groups be disbanded pursuant to section 3 of decision 53 of the GNC. The government should also reaffirm its commitment to halt government funding of all militias in December 2013. The Libyan government must also investigate the events of 15 and 16 November 2013 and hold those responsible accountable for the crimes committed.

The atrocities of the weekend further highlight Libya’s need to have an accountable security force which will act in order to protect the public. The Libyan government must therefore place emphasis on accountability rather than assimilation when considering the incorporation of non-state armed groups.

LFJL therefore calls on the Libyan government to ensure that only those who have not be found guilty of, and who are not suspected of, any human rights abuses or criminal offenses are incorporated into state forces. “To guarantee this,” added Saudi “the decision to incorporate militias should only be made after verifying individuals on a case by case basis and not in relation to a militia’s reputation as a collective.” The government should also offer no amnesties in any integration process for crimes and human rights violations committed. These principles should be formally recognised by the government when it formulates its plans for incorporation of militias into state forces, in pursuant to the GNC’s decision 53, paragraph 4. 

The following image and video document the first burials following the attacks. On 16 November 2013 over 10 victims were put to rest

Image © 2013 Essa Elhitch, Intaj


Video © 2013 Tariq Elmeri

Given the ongoing unrest in Libya, it is more important than ever that you let your voice be heard.  Libya's upcoming constitution is the opportunity for a fresh start for Libya and a chance for the Libyan public to reaffirm its expectations from its government. Tell us what you want your constitution to protect.

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