Open Letter to the Members of the House of Representatives from Lawyers for Justice in Libya

August 7, 2014

To the Members of the House of Representatives

Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) wishes to congratulate members of the House of Representatives on their assembly. The formation of the House of Representatives comes at a pivotal point in Libya’s democratic transition and is a vital opportunity to address political and social unrest in the country. LFJL reminds you of your compulsory responsibilities towards your constituents, your limited powers as a legislature, and the specific terms of your democratic mandate.  We call on you to take urgent action against the ongoing human rights and humanitarian atrocities occurring in Libya.

Recent clashes between rival armed groups in Libya, have resulted in a disproportionate number of civilian deaths and casualties. In the month of July 2014 alone, the Ministry of Health reported that 981 injuries and 214 deaths occurred as a result of the fighting.  Collateral damage and disputes between regions have frequently prevented whole communities from accessing fundamental resources such as water, electricity, fuel and healthcare. Targeted violent attacks and assassinations against those who are vocal of their opinions remain widespread, with civil society members, legal professionals, and journalists being particularly vulnerable. State and non-state controlled detention facilities hold thousands of detainees who currently face little prospect of a fair trial or due process. Torture remains prevalent in such facilities; a recent report stated that out of 138 detainees interviewed, 100 reported being subject to torture and other abuses.

Mounting evidence suggests that many of the groups responsible for such grave human rights violations are largely supported and funded through criminal activities. Human, drugs and arms smuggling, has allowed many to profit illegally and immorally from the ongoing crisis. These criminal activities have prolonged the disruption of peace in the country.

Despite the prevalence of these human rights abuses, violations of international humanitarian law, and criminal activities, the individuals and groups responsible for these offences have so far enjoyed total impunity. In turn, the Libyan state’s ongoing tolerance of such grave acts may constitute a crime against humanity. This is the case if certain grave human rights violations, such as murder, torture, or unlawful imprisonment form a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population and the authorities condone or tolerate such offences. Notably this remains the case even if the perpetrators of such acts are not part of the state or do not identify with government policy. The international community considers crimes against humanity to be a serious attack on human dignity and may take action, including arrest warrants and sanctions, against those responsible.

The commencement of the House of Representatives’ activities is a key opportunity to correct the country’s course and to take action against injustice. It is therefore vital that the House of Representatives takes immediate action against individuals and groups responsible for human rights violations. LFJL recognises that current circumstances in Libya may inhibit the effectiveness of state action in Libya; however, this does not justify inaction or abandonment of state responsibilities and international obligations by the House of Representatives. Failure to adhere to these responsibilities and obligations may result in legal proceedings being brought against the Libyan state, both domestically and internationally.

For all these reasons, LFJL calls for the following actions to be taken by the House of Representatives:

  • To start by taking legislative measures to tackle impunity and enable the effective indictment of those responsible for human rights violations. Existing amnesties, granted by Law 38 of 2012, for 'actions made necessary by the February 2011 revolution', which may be interpreted to include human rights violations, must be repealed. 

  • New laws should be passed that expressly criminalise human rights violations and bring about accountability. It is vital, for instance, that individuals, including members of the state institutions, who attempt to incite violence, are charged with criminal offences. Various public statements have recently sought to legitimise illegal activities and exonerate those who have committed them. Such statements have clearly aggravated and prolonged the ongoing conflict and disruption in Libya. 

  • Strengthen previous legislative efforts, such as decisions no. 27 and 53 of 2013, which concerned Tripoli and Benghazi. New legislation must be passed to ensure that substantive measures are taken to activate and enforce those decisions and to ensure their scope covers the whole of the country. A new government body, with a clear mandate, should be appointed to disarm such groups and ensure accountability. 

  • Measures must be adopted that ensure Libya’s international humanitarian law obligations are observed, notably the Geneva Conventions. These measures should include guarantees for domestic and international organisations, such as the International Committee for the Red Cross, to deliver aid to those who need it. 

  • Measures must also be passed to ensure that any assimilation efforts of armed non-state actors into state forces prevent those suspected of human rights or humanitarian violations from joining public ranks. It is vital that perpetrators of human rights violations are adequately vetted to ensure they do not find legitimacy or protection within state institutions. 

  • Ensure that any state funding of non-state actors is carried out with accountability. The support of non-state actors, who are responsible for human rights or humanitarian violations, carries with it legal responsibilities. This could lead to action being taken against the Libyan state for its complicity in crimes. 

  • Behave in a manner which strengthens the faith of Libya’s public in democratically elected institutions. The House of Representatives must therefore be mindful of the General Nations Congress’ failures and adhere to its own limited mandate. Notably it should strictly adhere to the length of its term and only seek to extend this through a nationwide referendum. 

  • As Libya’s legislature, it is imperative that the House of Representatives respects the need for a separation of state powers. It must therefore take measures to support the existence of the executive and the judiciary without infringing on their functions. The role of the legislature and the executive must remain distinct from one another.  This will enable the executive to effectively investigate and bring about actions against those who commit human rights violations. A sufficient budget must be passed that provides the judiciary with the necessary resources to bring about justice in the country and act with impartiality. 

  • It is vital that all members of the House of Representatives make efforts to directly engage with their constituents. It is only through such direct correspondence that the interests of the public can truly be represented in law and their needs addressed.

Yours faithfully

Lawyers for Justice in Libya

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