Written Statement submitted to the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council (27 February to 24 March) under Item 10: Technical assistance and capacity-building, Interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Libya.
After the 2011 NATO military operation to remove Qadhafi from power, there was a brief moment of hope for a new, inclusive and democratic country. Libya has, however, not only been rendered internally chaotic and dysfunctional, it has become: a target of extended aerial bombardment by the United States, Egypt, and possibly France; a site of Islamic extremism and home to an apparent offshoot of Daesh (ISIS); a corridor for people traffickers, and a destination for desperate refugees and migrants attempting to flee to Europe; and a source of weapons flows that have destabilised fragile internal truces, Libya’s neighbours and the region. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas, especially in aerial bombardment, continues to take a huge toll—70% of the deaths and injuries from explosive violence since 2011 have been civilian. OHCHR has reported to the Human Rights Council that “[h]eavy weaponry, such as Grad rockets, which are not appropriate for use in highly populated residential areas given that they cannot target with sufficient precision, have been employed."
Women report a swift erosion of their rights and are crushed by a strongly reinstated, extremist Islamic-inflected patriarchy, combined with an impossible burden of care as their access to functioning institutions and infrastructure disappears.
As Libya fragments, ethnic differences are being mobilised for local and international political ends, diverse armed groups continue to operate on and over borders that are now closed, and national reform processes, including of the military, have stalled. Internal displacement, including that of ethnic minorities, is escalating as conditions deteriorate. Women leaders face threats and even lethal public violence. Other human rights abuses continue to escalate. The World Bank warns that the economy is close to collapse. Oil and gas production, virtually the only source of income, was erratic until early 2017. The judicial, health and education systems are in tatters, and infrastructure is in rapid decline. Youth male unemployment reached a record high of 48.9% in 2014 and is likely to have risen since. Many young men are heavily armed.
While the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) tries to exert control in Tripoli, numerous religious and tribal militias, criminal networks, and local armed men loosely align themselves behind ideologically-opposite authorities, including a coalition under the anti-Islamist General Khalifa Haftar in the East (Torbruk). Each authority claims an army, a Prime Minister, and de facto control over resources and infrastructure. They exert little control beyond the coastal areas. In the southern desert, where the oil fields lie, local militias battle for control over territory, resources, and borders. This internal political chaos appears to be fuelling partisanship within the international community, made more complex by the change in US administration, a shift in whose strategy would risk further undermining the capacity of the GNA.
The European Union has recently agreed a plan to grant more financial, training and other assistance to the GNA’s coast guard and other relevant agencies as a measure to reduce migratory flows along the Central Mediterranean route. UN Special Procedures, policy analysts, aid groups and human rights organisations have raised serious concerns about the proposed approach. Moreover, as rival factions are not party to the EU deal, it is difficult to assess the extent to which it can succeed.
In the context of the ‘war on ISIS’, frequent calls are made, including from Security Council permanent members, to reverse the arms sanctions and flood new weapon systems into the country to ‘improve security’, including the measure of supporting one or another of Libya’s emergent regional warlords. Women activists strongly oppose such calls, pointing out that it will do little to create security and instead risks escalating the existing crises in the country. In the meantime, emerging online markets are already facilitating the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons to various non-state armed groups.
Women on the ground and international observers report that limited efforts have been made to include women in community peacebuilding efforts. This is despite strong evidence from WILPF and other conclusive research recognising their potential contributions to, among other things, combating extremism and the call in UNSCR 2178 (2014) to include women in developing strategies to combat extremism. WILPF’s partners report that the Special Representative of the Secretary General, like his predecessor, does little to ensure women’s participation in peacebuilding activities. Women deserve more than lip service to their inclusion.
WILPF urges Human Rights Council members and observer states to:
Protect civilians and migrants
Recalling the Arms Trade Treaty, Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security, and the EU common position on arms transfers:
Women’s participation in mediation and peacebuilding