On 16 February 2011 protests against Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi's repressive rule spread across Libya.
Government forces reacted violently towards demonstrators and protests rapidly turned into armed confrontations between forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi and opposition fighters.
Just over a month later, on 17 March, a UN resolution authorised member states to create a no-fly zone over Libya and two days later an air bombardment of Libyan military targets began.
Forces of the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) made significant advance throughout the summer eventually storming the capital Tripoli in late August, and taking control of Libya. For over four decades Colonel al-Gaddafi controlled Libya with an iron fist, on Thursday 20 October 2011 he was killed in Sirte.
In the battle for power both sides committed war crimes and throughout its rule the NTC failed to rein in the armed militias formed during the conflict. Despite attempts at disarmament, several hundred continue to be active and they are committing serious human rights abuses with impunity.
Landmark elections took place on 7 July 2012 with the NTC handing power to a newly elected congress, charged with appointing a new government, on 9 August. The new Libyan authorities face great challenges. They must urgently re-establish law and order throughout the country, building state institutions and breaking with the legacy of total impunity for human rights.
Hundreds of militia groups hold country in stranglehold
Hundreds of armed militias are committing a string of human rights violations. And they are evading justice
Libya's congress must take immediate action to stop this lawlessness or there is a very real danger Libya could end up reproducing the same patterns of abuse seen under al-Gaddafi's regime.
'We are not safe anywhere' - Tawargha residents attacked
In mid-August 2011, opposition fighters from Misratah attacked the neighbouring town of Tawargha, home to some 30,000 black Libyans. The fighters, known as thuwwar, believed that residents had supported al-Gaddafi during the 2011 conflict. After they had emptied the area, they looted, vandalised and burned down homes. Today Tawargha is a ghost town and victims have no hope of returning home.
Our ten steps for human rights
On 7 July 2012 a 200-member General National Congress was elected. Much now rests on its shoulders as it and the government it appoints face the monumental task of fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of those who took to the streets in February 2011 to demand an end to injustice and human rights violations. So we've produced a ten-point plan to help get them started.
The death of Colonel al-Gaddafi
Colonel al-Gaddafi's death on 20 October 2011 closed a chapter of Libya's history, marked by repression and abuse. But the legacy of repression and abuse from his rule will not end until there is a full accounting for the past, and victims have seen justice.
If Gaddafi was killed after capture it would constitute a war crime and those responsible must be prosecuted. With the circumstances surrounding his death unclear, we are calling on the Libyan authorities to ensure a full, independent and impartial investigation. Find out more:
- UK's financial settlement in Sami al-Saadi case 13 Dec 2012
When the National Transitional Council took power in late August 2011 it committed itself to creating a democratic, multi-party state based on the respect for fundamental human rights.
It issued a Constitutional Declaration enshrining human rights principles such as respect for fundamental freedoms, non-discrimination for all citizens and the right to a fair trial.
We welcome these commitments but they are yet to be translated into reality. Following landmark elections in July 2012 a new congress has been elected, charged with appointing a government. Once a new constitution is drafted a new election will be called. All those in power must do all they can to honour the human rights commitments of the NTC. As a contribution to the reform programme, we have produced an Agenda for Change including calls to:
- Reform the security and law enforcement sector
- Eradicate torture and other ill-treatment
- Respect and protect freedoms of expression, association and assembly
- Uphold the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants
- End discrimination on any grounds
There are significant questions about the ability of the new authorities to control the armed brigades that helped oust pro-Gaddafi forces.
In November the UN stated that an estimated 7,000 detainees were being held in makeshift centres under the control of revolutionary brigades, with no prospect of a proper judicial process. Despite the NTC calling on its supporters to avoid revenge attacks, serious abuses by the anti-Gaddafi forces have rarely been condemned.
Justice for human rights abuses
In June 2011 the International Criminal Court (ICC) approved arrest warrants for Colonel al-Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi on charges of crimes against humanity. Saif al-Islam was captured in November 2011.
While this is an important step in the fight against impunity, we are concerned that, if Saif al-Islam is tried before a Libyan court, he may have an unfair trial and could face the death penalty.
We are calling on the ICC to intervene by determining whether or not the Libyan authorities would be able to deliver real justice for victims of human rights abuses.
The Libyan authorities must ensure the safety of Saif al-Islam while he is in detention and guarantee that his human rights, as well as those of Abdullah al-Sanussi, are respected.
Update: In April 2012, Libya was ordered to surrender Saif al-Islam to the ICC, showing a step forward for justice and accountability. Libya's justice system remains paralysed, and in the absence of a functioning justice system, the ICC will be crucial in delivering accountability in Libya. Read more
A no-fly zone was implemented in March 2011, and conflict followed between Libya's military, the anti-Gaddafi forces and NATO-led international forces attacking from the air.
The conflict in Libya took a heavy toll, with many casualties of civilians and fighters on both sides, and thousands of people subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, unlawful killing and other serious abuses. It caused great destruction to public and private property and infrastructure, and widespread hardship.
Arms & Libya
A UK based company may have supplied Colonel Gaddafi's government forces with armoured crowd control vehicles used to crackdown on protests.
The licensing of equipment to Libya by successive UK governments has been granted with full prior knowledge of the terrible human rights record of Libya. We are calling for an effective Arms Trade Treaty, including robust and binding rules that prevent the sale of arms to countries where such risks exist.
For women, the development of anti-government protests into armed conflict decreased their frontline participation and visibility. Nevertheless, many contributed to opposition efforts and suffered as a result.Several of the women arrested during the conflict were held incommunicado at unrecognised places of detention. Some were beaten or otherwise ill treated, and there have been reports of rape and sexual abuse.
Representation of women in influential institutions remains low: in December 2011, the NTC had only two women among its 61 publicly named members.
Women's human rights in Libya
There are no specific laws to criminalise acts of violence against women. Women who have suffered gender-based violence have little recourse to justice from the authorities. In cases of rape, women may be accused of zina (sexual relations outside of lawful marriage) and flogged under the Libyan Penal Code. The concept of marital rape is not recognised by the law.
This makes it nearly impossible for women to report violence and has led to a climate of impunity.
In this context women's political participation in any peace or transitional processes is all the more essential.
Time for Europe to act
European countries have shamefully failed to help thousands of mainly African refugees stranded near Libya's borders. An estimated 5000 refugees who were seeking sanctuary in Libya have been forced to flee. It is time for Europe to act and offer to resettle the refugees further displaced by the recent conflict.
A Year of Rebellion
Our report, A Year of Rebellion, charts the incredible change that swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, brought by popular protest. But it also notes the disappointment at the pace of reform from new governments, particularly in Libya where, despite regime change, an estimated 7,000 people are languishing in detention with little hope of justice. It is time for governments to wake up to the scale of reform being demanded of them, and to commit to real change.
- Q&A: Human rights and the war in Libya March 2011
- Misratah: Under Siege and Under Fire March 2011
- Warning over mounting risk to civilians in Tripoli 23 August 2011
- Civilians must be protected amid Tripoli fighting 22 August 2011