A year ago, thousands of Libyan civilians became soldiers overnight. Opposed to the rule of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, they took up arms, many of them for the first time in their lives, and joined a ragtag rebel army. Now, after eight months of brutal violence, they are struggling to return to their former lives.
TRIPOLI, Libya — A group of Eritreans was about to board smugglers’ boats to Europe when a Libyan coast guard unit tried to stop them. Shots were fired and the group was split. Some made it on the boats, others were arrested, and two women and a newborn were later found dead on the beach. Such tragedies are happening all too often in Libya.
WASHINGTON, DC — The Libyan government, weakened by continued divisions among the regional militia groups that toppled the notorious Muammar Gaddafi, braced this week for downbeat assessments of the country's performance two years after the civil war officially ended.
By any fair assessment, Libya's brave effort to forge a tolerant, relatively open society on the ashes of one of recent history's most venal and reckless dictatorships would be deemed a qualified success.
This should be a moment to take a breath, assess progress made, and rededicate US policy to keeping it all moving in the right direction.
The global community must act to protect human rights defenders and civil society organizations from unprecedented restrictions and attacks. The work of human rights defenders – including journalists, lawyers and advocates – is crucial to upholding human rights and the rule of law. Despite this, around the world we bear witness to an increase in attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, together with an expansion of laws that restrict and impair the work of non-government organizations.
“I have waited my whole life for tomorrow, which will be a new day for Libya,” an elated Haja Nowara told Human Rights Watch on the eve of Libya’s first democratic national elections in July 2012. “We sacrificed a lot to get here.” We met Nowara as she held a lonely vigil in the square outside the courthouse in Benghazi, where she had spent many evenings supporting the revolution since early 2011. She proudly displayed her voter registration card around her neck and waved Libya’s new national flag while people approached her to pay their respects. She had become an icon due to her steadfast participation in the protests that started the revolt that eventually led to the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi.