Libya violated human rights defender’s rights by failing to investigate and prosecute her arbitrary detention and torture


Libya violated the human rights of an activist working on women’s rights by failing to investigate and prosecute her unlawful arrest and torture by a militia group affiliated with the government, the UN women’s rights committee has found.

Its decision published today is the first the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has adopted in response to an individual complaint brought against a country from the Middle East and North Africa region.

In its findings, CEDAW recalls that gender-based violence against women includes direct actions taken by or on behalf of States parties, as well as the failure of a government to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women.

The Committee issued its decision after considering a complaint by Libyan human rights activist Magdulein Abaida, who fled Libya in 2012 after being harassed, tortured and forced to close down her women’s rights organisation, Hakki (“My Right”).

On 9 August 2012, while participating in a workshop on women’s rights in the city of Benghazi, Ms. Abaida was forced to leave the meeting by several armed men. Later that day, she was arrested and taken away from her hotel room by an Islamist militia group, the Martyrs of 17 February Brigade.

Over the course of the next five days, the 25-year old activist was detained at different compounds run by the government and by the Martyrs of 17 February Brigade, which was at that time receiving money from Libya’s Defence Ministry to carry out law enforcement functions in southern and eastern Libya.

During her detention, Ms. Abaida was subjected to harassment, insults and physical beatings. A militia member hit her with his gun and threatened to kill her. She was interrogated about her alleged links with Israel based on her translation work for an Israeli journalist who was making a documentary about women’s rights in Libya. She was also brought before the Deputy Interior Minister who complained to her about the “noise” that she had created in the media. 

On 14 August, she was released and returned to Tripoli, the country’s capital. But amid hate mail and death threats from members of the public, she was forced to give up her NGO work promoting women’s rights.  

Fearing she might be killed if detained again, Ms. Abaida fled to the UK in September 2012, where she was granted asylum.  She filed her complaint to the Committee in 2017.

“Magdulein Abaida was arbitrarily arrested and tortured. She was targeted and threatened because of her activism for women’s rights. But the Libyan government failed to investigate, prosecute, punish and provide reparations for the torture and harassment inflicted on her,” Committee member Nahla Haidar said. “We invited Libya to respond to the complaint on four occasions from 2018 to 2020, and we regret that the State party did not respond to our requests.”

This is the first case in which the Committee found a violation of the rights of a human rights defender.

The Committee requested Libya to ensure accountability and provide reparations for Ms. Abaida. It also issued wide-ranging general recommendations to Libya to address gender-based violence against women committed by public officials and non-State actors.

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