Libya: Meet Salah: Keeping hope for redress in the absence of a State, amid a civil war
5th, Tripoli (Libya) - “Torture is certainly
practised in all societies, but the problem in Libya is the frequency of its
occurrence,” explains Salah Abu Khazam, who founded and heads the Libyan
Network for Legal Aid. “That’s because the Government is only concerned with
its own security.”
Salah doesn’t have it easy. He works in a country with two governments,
non-existent police force, a defunct judicial system and no rule of law, where
human rights defenders like him, prime targets of scores of armed groups,
regularly get kidnapped or killed. Two volunteer human rights lawyers working
for his organization were directly threatened, and chances are he himself is on
the black list for promoting democratic ideals, gender equality, or any value
opposed to those upheld by Islamist armed groups. Yet, he still gets up every
morning thinking that Libya is going to become a better place.
“The day will come when the culprits will be held accountable for their crimes
and victims will receive reparation,” he says.
While most of his peers are in exile, Salah, 31, holds onto his country.
He is proud to say he has rescued two people from death under torture, and a
third one from a death sentence for having stolen a military vehicle. He is
convinced no one can enjoy any wellbeing or lead a proper life while such
violations are tolerated by the social and political system, until the
universal values of human rights are enforced in Libya. One has to say, though,
that the light at the end of the tunnel still seems very far at this stage.
After the 2011 attacks and uprising that led to the downfall of the
Qadhafi regime after 24 years of dictatorship, many Libyan intellectuals and
lawyers such as Salah engaged in the defence of human rights. With the backing
of international NGOs including OMCT, Amnesty International, and the Red Cross
a number of local networks and civil society organizations sprung up to better
protect citizens from routine human rights violations.
this hopeful period of building up democratic institutions and restoring civil
rights was short-lived as another wave of widespread violence overtook the
country, home to the world’s 10th-largest oil-reserves, as numerous
belligerents fuelled political, racial, ethnic, religious and interregional
The country has been divided since June 2014, when a number of factions
refused to accept the legislative election results and the establishment of a
new Parliament, leaving Libya with two Governments: one recognized by the
international community based in al-Bayda, and another loyal to the former
General National Congress based in Tripoli. To make things worse, many regions
have ties to Islamist groups while other areas are self-governing, and rival
armed groups have spread across the territory, creating additional lines of
The result was complete chaos, with a collapse of state institutions and
deteriorating economic, social and health conditions, which forced the European
Union and United Nations Support Mission to Libya to leave the country. The
escalation of violence since in August 2014 - when Islamist militias took over
Tripoli and its civilian airport - was so ferocious that the UN Security
Council called for the application of sanctions against violators of
humanitarian and human rights law. The violence also led to at least 400,000
internally displaced Libyans and to hundreds of thousands migrant workers
fleeing the country.
is in this improbable context that Salah’s organization, founded in 2014 with
OMCT’s help, has documented 90 torture cases, forced disappearances, arbitrary
detentions and abuses. It has filed 15 complaints with local courts for
torture, detention and extra-judiciary executions. It is working with other
partners on how to use international mechanisms to seek redress for victims of
torture in the face of an incompetent of national judicial system.
“Society must free itself from passivity and dependence and participate
collectively to demand the respect of its rights,” explains Salah.
- By Lori Brumat in Geneva
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