Crushing liberty: relentless restrictions on Libyan women and enforced male guardianship

June 1, 2023

Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) condemns the recent arbitrary introduction of surveillance mechanisms aimed at restricting Libyan women’s freedom of movement, as is the case with the newly imposed travel form in Libya that is in direct violation of Libya’s Constitutional Declaration of 2011 which guarantees equal rights and the right to freedom of movement under Articles 6, 8 and 14.

In May 2023, the Internal Security Agency (ISA), operating under the UN-recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli introduced a new procedure whereby Libyan women travelling alone from an airport in western Libya (Tripoli and Misrata) are required to complete an official declaration that includes her reasons for travel, an explanation of why she is travelling alone, and detailed information about her travel history. This new procedure unequivocally discriminates against women. By interrogating and hindering their freedom of movement and autonomy, it deprives women of their fundamental rights as equal citizens.

The form is also a tool for surveillance and data collection purposes, making women’s movements hyper-visible on the ISA’s radar and therefore vulnerable to interrogation and further restrictions by the ISA – an entity purportedly responsible for abhorrent human rights violations and complete disregard for the rule of law.

A Libyan civil society activist from Tripoli told LFJL, “For me, filling out the form is my biggest risk. I will be put under a microscope and monitored by the ISA and the state authorities, my name will be flagged. After the first time, the second time...I am sure that the third time I will be put in an office and interrogated.”

Following public outcry over the travel form, the ISA proceeded to distribute an online survey to gauge opinions regarding Libyan women travelling alone as a means to justify their surveillance on women’s movement. The problematic survey, that asks whether travelling without a chaperone goes against Libyan and Islamic norms, reinforces differentiating the right to freedom of movement between men and women, and forms part of a larger state-sanctioned campaign to mobilise popular opinion against women and their freedoms. In an already hostile environment where attacks on women online and offline are increasingly common, this survey is only to the detriment to women’s safety.

Despite Libya's Constitutional Declaration cementing the commitment towards human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Libyan citizens, the GNU not only undermines this commitment with these restrictive and discriminatory measures but also violates Libya’s international legal obligations, namely Article 3 on equality and Article 12 around freedom of movement of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It also goes against provisions under the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which guarantees freedom of movement for women, as well as their obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). 

LFJL calls for the immediate removal of all travel restrictions and surveillance measures imposed on women that aim to enforce a system of male guardianship and curtail the liberty of Libyan women.

LFJL urges the GNU to:

  • Immediately end the use of the travel form and remove the online survey.
  • Reflect the principles and beliefs established in the Constitutional Declaration of 2011 and in Libya’s international obligations, and refrain from imposing any future procedures that contravene these legal obligations. 
  • Take immediate measures to ensure the rights of women in Libya are protected and upheld, including by countering the negative impact of these processes through public awareness campaigns and safeguarding measures.
  • Take measures to ensure that the security sector adheres to the rule of law and that these bodies operate with proper oversight.
  • Launch investigations without delay with the aim of holding those found responsible for any forms of violence or discrimination against women accountable.

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