Today marks the fifth anniversary of the 17 February Revolution and the fifth year since Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) was established. LFJL would like to use this significant date as an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that were experienced during the past year, particularly those that risk the on-going existence of independent civil society organisations in Libya.
The initial hope that the 17 February would be a day of celebration for all Libyans has been severely tarnished by the on-going difficulties which continue to plague the country. Human rights violations, political and state institutional instability, and impunity of those responsible for serious crimes remain endemic. The United Nations agencies’ most recent estimates indicate that over 430,000 remain internally displaced within Libya and that 2.4 million people are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. Thousands of detainees still remain in situations of arbitrary detention where they are at extreme risk of torture and ill treatment and the majority of whom have never been brought before any form of judicial review. During the past year, LFJL has raised its concerns regarding the danger of draft constitutional recommendations that may limit and undermine fundamental human rights protections if adopted; the treatment of migrants and refugees in detention facilities; and the on-going spread of violence instigated by non-state actors, including Daesh.
LFJL is also deeply concerned that one of the few outstanding accomplishments of the 17 February Revolution, the creation of independent civil society, is now under serious threat. Over the past year, individuals and institutions affiliated with both the General National Congress and the House of Representatives have issued statements that attempt to control and restrict the activities of such groups.
More recently, The Civil Society Commission (the Commission), a body without the legal authority to issue new laws, has attempted to create a new regulation that introduces onerous notification, authorisation and reporting requirements for civil society organisations and grants the Commission the power arbitrarily to prohibit organisations from working in Libya. This regulation exceeds the Commission’s mandate, namely to introduce measures that encourage civil society organisations to work in compliance with existing laws. In the absence of such relevant laws, the regulation’s measures amount to an attempt to restrict the activities of civil society organisations unlawfully and are in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly guaranteed by Libya’s Interim Constitutional Declaration and the country’s international human rights obligations. Despite their unlawful nature, there is a real danger that local authorities will seek inappropriately to implement the regulation.
“Independent civil society organisations in Libya are under repeated attack by individuals and institutions seeking to gain influence and power. The current trend indicates that civil society organisations in Libya are facing the greatest threat to their continued existence since the 2011 uprising,” remarked Thomas Ebbs, LFJL’s Acting Director. He added “This is a serious concern as, in the absence of state institutions, civil society groups have played an increasingly important role in providing basic services and support for those residing in Libya. It is vital that efforts are made, both by national and international agencies, to support this remaining bastion of the revolution rather than to restrict its activities or encourage its destruction.”
LFJL hopes that, as an enduring accomplishment of the 17 February Revolution, independent civil society organisations are able to remain a guiding force throughout the difficult transitional period. Groups, including LFJL, must be able to continue to support the Libyan people and assist the rebuilding of the Libyan state based on human rights, the rule of law and democracy if the 17 February is to be a day celebrated in the future. LFJL calls on all actors engaged in Libya to increase their efforts to support the existence of civil society organisations and to encourage such groups to play a greater role during this difficult transitional period.