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Libya violated rights of ‘targeted’ woman activist, says anti-discrimination committee

A woman walks in the old city of Tripoli, Libya. (file)
UNSMIL/Lason Athanasiadis
A woman walks in the old city of Tripoli, Libya. (file)

Libya violated rights of ‘targeted’ woman activist, says anti-discrimination committee

Human Rights

The failure of Libya to investigate the unlawful arrest and torture of a women’s rights activist is a clear rights violation, the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), said on Wednesday.

Magdulein Abaida fled Libya in 2012 after being harassed, tortured and forced to close down her women’s rights organisation, Hakki, or “My Right”.

“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,” Nahla Haidar, a member of CEDAW.

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Interrogated over alleged Israel links

The Libyan human rights activist was taking part in a workshop on women’s rights in the city of Benghazi on 9 August 2012 when she was forced to leave by several armed men.

Later that day, she was arrested and taken from her hotel room by an Islamist militia group, the Martyrs of 17 February Brigade.

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

During this time Ms. Abaida was subjected to harassment, insults and physical beatings. She was also hit with a gun by a militia who threatened to kill her.

Ms. Abaida 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 about the “noise” she had created in the media. 

Complaints filed

On 14 August, Ms. Abaida was released and returned to Tripoli, the country’s capital.

But hate mail and death threats from the public, forced her to give up her NGO work promoting women’s rights and in September 2012, she fled to the United Kingdom, where she was granted asylum. 

She filed her complaint to the Committee in 2017.

“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”, Haidar said.

This is the first case in which the Committee found a violation by a country from the Middle East and North Africa region of the rights of a human rights defender.

Human rights activist Magdulein Abaida.
Magdulein Abaida | Human rights activist Magdulein Abaida.​​​​

Make reparations

The Committee requested that Libya 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.

According to CEDAW, 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.

‘A huge relief’

Ms. Abaida said the outcome was “a huge relief” and that it should offer “hope of closure”, after many years.

“I genuinely couldn’t quite believe it. It left me speechless”, she told UN News.

“It’s such a huge relief to have received this type of recognition of the injustices I suffered, and (though I’ve not yet digested it all) should offer hope of closure, after so many years.”