Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2017, 11:34 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 - Libya

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 3 July 2014
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 - Libya, 3 July 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/53ba8de3f.html [accessed 28 February 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Two years after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was removed from power, the situation of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in Libya remains uncertain. On the one hand, important progress occurred during 2013 in furthering the recognition of civil, political and cultural rights for the three main minority groups: Imazighen (Berbers; singular Amazigh), nomadic pastoralist Tuaregs living along Libya's western border, and black African Tebu, living near the town of Kufra in southern Libya. Nevertheless, the ongoing inability of the central government to establish control over the multiple armed groups operating in the country has left some minorities vulnerable to attacks.

The General National Congress (GNC), elected in July 2012, took significant measures in 2013 under Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to advance the rights of minorities. While Tebu and Tuaregs were assimilated as foreigners under Gaddafi, without citizenship or other associated rights, in April 2013 the GNC passed an anti-discrimination law that strengthened protections for ethnic minorities, and in June took the symbolic step of electing an Amazigh as its president. The following month, the GNC also passed a law prohibiting electoral candidates from speeches encouraging tribalism, regionalism or ethnic sentiments in the framework of the electoral campaign. However, rather than protecting minorities, existing provisions of the penal code prohibiting incitement to hatred have been used even since the fall of Gaddafi to arrest and prosecute individuals on grounds of blasphemy-like offenses and accusations of 'instigating division'.

After decades of marginalization, discrimination and forced Arabization, Libyan non-Arab minorities have been able to maintain and promote their distinct identities with greater freedom. In July, following protests from minority groups about the exclusion of a number of rights from the recently passed electoral law, the GNC passed a law officially recognizing the Tamazight (Berber), Tuareg and Tebu languages and enabling them to be taught in schools. The launch of media outlets in minority languages and the holding for the first time in 2013 of once forbidden Amazigh and Tebu cultural festivals, with the support of the government, confirmed the new emphasis on diversity within Libya.

One of the key demands of minority communities is for the future Constitution to formally recognize linguistic rights and other basic freedoms. A law passed in July provides for six out of a total of 60 seats to be reserved for minorities in the Constitutional Drafting Committee, to be elected in 2014, though minority representatives have objected that majority voting will still mean that their concerns will not be adequately reflected. They jointly called for the adoption of a 'consensus principle' for the drafting process to ensure their involvement in decision-making, and threatened to boycott the elections if these demands were not met. Minorities were also politically active in other areas during the year, organizing themselves into associations such as the Supreme Amazigh Council, the Tuareg Supreme Council and the Tebu National Assembly. They undertook joint political action and organized blockades of roads and pipelines in order to secure recognition of their rights in the future constitution.

Despite these moves, the security context for minority groups remained volatile. The government's weak enforcement of the rule of law, together with the presence of extremist Salafi movements and the continued hostility of sections of Libyan society towards ethnic and religious minorities, led to sporadic incidents of violence and intimidation during the year. These included the destruction of Sufi shrines and mausoleums and attacks on churches by Salafi groups at the start of the year. Priests were assaulted by gunmen and Copts accused of proselytization have been arrested and allegedly tortured by members of the militia Libya Shield.

Xenophobic rhetoric about Tebu and other minorities, a common occurrence under Gaddafi, has lingered. There are ongoing reports of violence between Arab Zawiya tribes in the south and Tebu communities. These attacks occur against a backdrop of discrimination as well as competition for the control of the lucrative trans-Saharan smuggling routes in the region.

Similarly, the Tawerghan ethnic minority suffered violent attacks by brigades and continued to be displaced in 2013. During the Libyan revolution, government forces attacking Misrata were partly based in the town of Tawergha. Following this, Misrata rebel forces targeted Tawerghans, forcing them from the town. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 1,300 remain detained or missing, while more than 30,000 civilians were forced into exile. During the year, Tawerghans remained in a state of protracted displacement in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, unable to return to their homes due to resistance from neighbouring communities. In November, random attacks by gunmen from Misrata left one dead and three injured. However, fewer raids were conducted in 2013 than in the year before, and some observers report that hostility towards Tawerghans is decreasing as people become better informed about their predicament through local media. The adoption by the GNC of the Law on Transitional Justice in December, providing for the establishment of a fact-finding and reconciliation commission tasked with addressing among other areas the situation of IDPs, could deliver positive improvements to their situation in future. However, in April 2014 HRW criticized the lack of implementation and noted that the commission had yet to be established.

Sub-Saharan migrants, asylum seekers and refugees also remain vulnerable to racist stereotypes and 'misguided fears of diseases', according to a report by Amnesty International. UNHCR estimates that more than 8,000 sub-Saharan asylum seekers and refugees, mainly from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, were in the country in early 2014. In a climate of impunity and inadequate justice, they were subjected to exploitation and arbitrary arrests and beatings, with some detained indefinitely in harsh conditions in 'holding centres' because of undocumented entry to Libya.

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