LFJL Strongly Condemns Recent Attacks of Religious Shrines in Libya

August 28, 2012

Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) is concerned about the recent incidents that have been taking place in Libya, including, among other things, the desecration, destruction and pillaging of a number of Sufi shrines and historical sites in Tripoli, Derna, Zliten, Misrata and other parts of the country, the detention on 25 August 2012 of three journalists covering the attacks in Tripoli and the kidnapping on 26 August 2012 of an imam during a peaceful protest in Tripoli condemning these attacks.

The attacks, the detentions and the kidnapping represent a disturbing turn in Libya's transition.  They also underline the importance of guaranteeing freedom of religion and expression in the new Libya, and the protection of its heritage and its historical sites. The new government of Libya has a responsibility to ensure Libya’s commitment to its international obligations under the UN International Declaration of Human Rights as well as the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.  Further, under the Constitutional Declaration of 3rd August 2011, which serves as our interim constitution, the Libyan government has the responsibility to preserve the linguistic and cultural rights of all parts of Libyan society as well as to ensure the rights of Libyans to protest peacefully. It cannot fulfil this commitment in a passive way - it must also take positive steps to ensure the safety of people who do protest peacefully.

Whatever the personal view of those responsible for the attacks, who have defended their actions by referring to the religious sites attacked as “idolatrous,” the fact is that such wanton destruction is unacceptable under each and every international and regional human rights instrument to which Libya has aligned itself, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights.  During the revolution last year, both NTC fighters and NATO jets respected the prohibition against the destruction of cultural property in times of armed conflict.  By doing so they recognised the importance Libya’s rich cultural heritage could play in helping the country to heal after the conflict.  These fanatic iconoclasts have wreaked more damage to that heritage in the past 72 hours than was done during the six months of the armed conflict.

“These indiscriminate attacks on religious shrines constitute a stain on Libya's transition,” said LFJL Director, Elham Saudi. “This heartbreaking crime points to challenges which lie ahead in creating a Libya that respects the civil and political rights of its citizens and protects them through the rule of law.”

While LFJL welcomes the government's rightful condemnation of the attacks, there is also an urgent need to investigate thoroughly and bring to justice the perpetrators of these barbaric acts. Moreover, LFJL urges the government to take all necessary measures to ensure that any remaining religious and historical sites which may be vulnerable are protected.

“This is not about rivalries, religious, political or otherwise,” added Saudi. “This is fundamentally an issue of justice, of ensuring that religious freedom, freedom of expression and the cultural rights of all Libyans are respected and the protection of Libya’s heritage is guaranteed. These attacks are yet another reminder of the vital role of drafting and instituting Libya's Constitution in a way which guarantees that these inalienable rights are enshrined, enforced and protected.”

Click HERE to see a letter delivered to the GNC signed by over 10 civil society organisations including LFJL

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