*Reflections on the 21st Anniversary of the Declaration of Minority Rights

December 18, 2013

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities recognising the essential need for all groups fully to enjoy and exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination of any kind. Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) takes this opportunity to remind the Libyan government of its commitment to the universal nature of human rights by ensuring greater inclusivity in all of its processes and sufficient representation of minority groups in the constitution- drafting process.

The law adopted on 16 July 2013 concerned with the elections of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) members assigned six seats to minority group representatives of the Amazigh, Tebu and Tuareg populations. The flawed structure of the law resulted in inadequate guarantees of representation for minority groups, as highlighted previously by LFJL.  This has resulted in representatives from several minority groups declaring that their members will boycott the constitutional drafting process.  At present there are no Amazigh candidates registered for nomination in the CDC elections.  The on-going attacks on religious sites across the country also highlight that discrimination remains a prevalent issue for under recognised religious minorities.

The absence of official engagement from minority groups places additional burden on parties involved in the drafting process, including the High National Election Commission (HNEC), the General National Congress (GNC) and the future CDC, who must ensure the interests of various minority groups are protected. ‘Recognising and protecting diversity will bring much needed tolerance, understanding and respect to Libyan society,’ stated LFJL Director, Elham Saudi. ‘Just because certain groups will not be at the drafting table does not mean that their interests should not reach the pen of the drafters,’ she added.

Although various minority groups share general demands, they also hold specific concerns that stem from their unique circumstances and historic challenges. For example, many individual members of minority groups, especially those belonging to the Tuareg and Tebu communities, struggle to gain access to Libyan citizenship. They are prevented from acquiring a family booklet, which is the primary means of acquiring citizen rights and are needed to enjoy fundamental human rights, such as health care, education and political participation. These concerns may be alleviated through properly enshrining cultural and social rights and ensuring that sufficient guarantees of individual freedoms exist. The constitution offers a unique opportunity to protect these interests.

‘It is vital that all laws, especially the constitution, protect those most vulnerable in society so that their rights and interests are not ignored or abolished by the majority ‘said Saudi. ‘Only when our constitution protects the interest of every Libyan will we have a truly Libyan constitution,’ she added.

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