Q: Let us start by introducing our audience to Lawyers for Justice in Libya
A: Lawyers for justice in Libya is an international and Libyan non-governmental organization that is based in London. Our core mission is to achieve justice, accountability and respect for Human rights in Libya. We have been working for a decade on Libya through three main programs: advocacy and outreach, research and capacity building, and also a law program. Currently, we are working on some existing projects, capacity building whether in person or online. We also work with our partners in Libya to document cases of Human rights violations and support the victims to identify and access different justice pathways that are available such as the Human rights committee, the international Human rights court…
Q:” For our non-Libyan followers, let us give them an overview of the current situation in Libya
A: It's always difficult to summarize the situation in Libya. As you know Libya has faced multiple armed conflicts in the past decade that caused severe Humanitarian crises and the breakdown of multiple national institutions. So basically, between April 2019 and October 2020, an armed conflict occurred between what is called UN-backed government of national accord and the Libyan national army. It happened mainly in and around Tripoli. During this conflict, all parties committed violations of international humanitarian law, in some cases amounting to war crimes. Ultimately, a ceasefire agreement was signed and followed by a long negociation process. Then, an interim government called the government of national unity was formed in March 2021. That actually raised hopes for more peaceful and stable Libya. One of its main objectives was to organize elections in December 2021. But for many reasons including an unclear and uncomplete constitutional basis, very contested election laws, the elections did not take place. This brings us to today recently the house of representatives or parliament declared the GNU mandate has expired and must step down. They elected a new prime minister, now working on forming the new government. On the other hand, the GNU is considering that appointment illegitimate and refuses to step down until it organizes the elections. Again, there is a risk for Libya to have two governments or renew a conflict. It is unclear how the situation will evolve. But, what is certain is that the militias and armed groups continue to flourish and compete over territorial control, financial gain and critical influence. These militias and armed groups are responsible for a wide range of serious international crimes including unlawful killing, abduction, arbitrary arrest and torture. They often target people for their political affiliation, wealth, ethnic origins or gender.
Q: How the Libyan civil society is navigating this turmoil of events
A: Despite what seems to be impossible challenges, Libyan civil society continues to ve alive and vibrant. We work with a national network of Libyan civil society organizations, activists and Human rights defenders. They are those on the front line, documenting Human rights violations, providing Humanitarian support or assistance to vulnerable groups or minorities. However, they operate in a context of crackdown imposed by militias, armed groups and state institutions. They are often targgetted by vuilent attacks including abduction, arbirary arrest, torture and they are also subject to all forms of surveillance, threats and inimidation. For example, we documented the case of Jawhar Ali, a civil society actorwho was unlawfully detained and tortured by one of the militias in Misrata, western Libya after he shared a video on his social media account where he docimented and commented on an airstrike during the conflict.
Another important element is the legal Framework. Several laws from the Gaddafi era are still in place and the authorities are introducing further restrictions to paralyse and silence Libyan organizations. For example, last July, they introduced strict regulations with oppressive registration requirements, unjust regulations on funding and granting excessive power to the administration eithout any judicial oversight.
Last October for example, the house of reepresentatives adopted a very problematic anti-cybercrime law. The law contains measures that threaten freedom of expression, publication and may open the way to mass surveillanc. on websites and online content. Aloing with other partners, we called on Libyan authorities to immediately appeal this lawand draft new one that is in line with Human rights standards.
Q” Speaking of human rights, LFJL launched an e-learning platform for human rights education tell us about this initiative and why is HR education so important
A” During the pandemic, like many other organizations we had to adapt our in person training to find new solutions. Initially we explored doing live training session but that also has its challenges, especially in Libya because of some issues with internet connection and sometimes even electricity issues. We had to find an alternative that is more suitable and even more sustainable. That is how came to creating an online platform which is adela academy. The idea is to have a platform where activists, lawyers, journalists. and in the future accessible to the wider public where they can learn what they need about Human rights in Libya. We started first with a course on documentation of human rights crimes. It was a very interesting experience to make better use of the digital experience. But we also realized that we have to adapt. You cannot just take presentations you give in in-person training and just put them in the online format. That doesn't work. We have to think of creating a learning experience. For example, one hour of digital learning equals more than four hours of in-person training. We faced some challenges on how to condense and make accessible very complex material while working with experts to present a course that may take more than a week, how to put it in ten-minute videos. Through the platform, we tried to make information accessible, interactive and engaging so that learners can earn the tools and also apply them..At the same time, we tried to keep an element of in-person training. Digital learning even though it offers so many advantages, we are also aware of the limitations of online learning and try to complete that. It gives more freedom and tools to educate our partners.
Q: How was the feedback from your participants
A: The feedback was positive in the sense that it offered an engaging but simple highly condensed material. I think one of the advantages was that the content is available and the participant can go back to review and revisit some of the material at a time that is convenient to them. It is something we will continue and we are thinking of developing new courses in the future.
Q: Speaking of Documenting human rights violations, this is one field technology is progressively being used for. How is that
A: Absolutely. with the rise of digital technology, including the widespread use of smartphones and social media. Human rights researchers now have access to more information than ever before. It totally transformed the way we collect, analyse and preserve evidence of serious human rights violations. It is not only because of the amount of information that is available but also it addresses the challenge of accessing certain areas or regions. For example, in Libya, because of the conflict, there are serious physical and security barriers. So, more and more documentation provided on open source is becoming important for accountability purposes and for criminal investigations and persecutions. To give you an example, in 2017, the international criminal court issued a warrant to arrest Libyan military commander, Mahmoud Werfelli for alleged war crimes. That was arrest warrant was the first to be exclusively based on social media content and videos posted online. So open-source content can be used in an infinite number of ways. Sometimes, perpetrators post pictures and content like Werfelli as I mentioned. Sometimes, victims use digital tools to spread information about their cases. Pictures of incidents can be published. But then, the information collected needs to be analysed to draw conclusions, to verify when a violation did happen, corporate witness statements, contradict state and public officials' version of the facts. But I think there are many challenges that may arise as well in relation to open source documentation like ethical considerations, privacy, consent, the veracity of information and also the digital security aspect. So this is one of the aspects we are training our partners on in some of these skills to gain the tools and mindset in doing open source documentation in a way that is also safe to support investigation and turn documentation into evidence. You cannot take a picture randomly posted online by an anonymous profile and claim it can be evidence. It may have high value, but it is not likely to be accepted by courts. Verification needs to be done, like metadata and tracing the source of the picture. With these tools, you can turn documentation into evidence.