Civil society held hostage by corruption and murderLibya's peace process doomed to failure without its women
It could just as well have been her, says Rida al-Tubuly, adding that she is simply lucky to still be alive, lucky not to have been killed like Hanan al-Barassi.
It has been six weeks since the assassination of Hanan al-Barassi. For weeks afterwards, many people in Libya continued to express their outrage. People like the human rights activist Rida al-Tubuly, who lives and works in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and fights for a society where Libyan women can live in safety. "People who question those in power in Libya are putting their lives at risk," she says on the telephone. "This is especially true if you are a woman."
Lawyer Hanan al-Barassi was assassinated on 10 November in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. It was the afternoon, and the 46-year-old had gone out to do some shopping. She had just parked her car outside a shop when masked men stepped up to her car and shot her in the head. Human Rights Watch has described the assassination as a "cold-blooded execution".
"Hanan al-Barassi was brave," says Rida al-Tubuly. "She addressed even the thorniest topics." Al-Barassi was vocal in her denunciation of the abuse of power by the ruling militias in her country. She accused armed groups of sexual attacks and criticised the despotism of the warlords and those faithful to General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army, which controls the eastern part of the country. In response, she received death threats. On the day she was killed, al-Barassi hinted in a video that she would soon go public with details about the corrupt networks of one particular armed group. Prior to that, she had said that members of Haftar's family were involved in corruption
Rida al-Tubuly explains that in Libya, men are elevated to the important positions because they promise their supporters benefits. Women, on the other hand, stand up for things like human rights and the rule of law. "And for that, they receive threats." All across the country.
A country disintegrating into chaos
Since the overthrow of Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya has been split down the middle. On the one side is the UN- and EU-recognised Government of National Accord under Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in the capital, Tripoli. The GNA is also backed by Turkey and Italy. On the other is General Khalifa Haftar, who has the backing of a number of countries including Russia and, to a certain extent, France. Add to the mixture dozens of militias, clans, foreign mercenaries and Islamist groups that are all jostling for power.
Haftar's rebels control large swathes of the country, ruling with an iron fist. For just under a year, Haftar's troops advanced on Tripoli; in the summer, his offensive collapsed. But this did not bring the country any peace.
For years now, the reports coming from Libya have been grim: not only because the country is disintegrating into chaos and lawlessness, but also because people who have fled there from southern Africa are being tortured, abused and enslaved. Little attention is, however, paid to the struggle of those Libyans who uncover wrongs, injustices and maladministration in Libya and want to see progress in their country – and who risk their lives to do so.
Branded a traitor
Rida al-Tubuly knows what that means. The 58-year-old human rights activist is professor of pharmacology at the University of Tripoli and has been working for equality for decades. In 2011, she and three female students set up the organisation "Together We Build It", which seeks to empower women to get involved in society and politics.
For example, Al-Tubuly and her colleagues are pushing the Libyan government to implement Resolution 1325, which was passed by the UN Security Council in the year 2000. This resolution calls on countries to grant women in war zones an active role in peace-building and peace-keeping. "This resolution was the first time that it was officially acknowledged that although it is women who suffer most in wars and conflicts, they are generally excluded from the peace process," says al-Tubuly. She says that it is not easy to remind the government that it is bound by the resolution.
Amnesty International denounces the assassination of lawyer Hanan al-Barassi, who was shot today in Benghazi in public. Hanan has been vocal in criticizing the corruption of several individuals affiliated to the armed groups in Eastern #Libya (1/3). pic.twitter.com/ER5HUXlLib
— amnestypress (@amnestypress) November 10, 2020
Last year, al-Tubuly spoke to the UN Security Council in New York about the precarious situation of Libyan women. In her speech, she criticised the men in positions of power in both the east and the west of the country. She told the council that the assassination of women politicians and activists was an everyday occurrence under both leaderships, and that women were being excluded from social and political life. For this, she received death threats in her native country. The Libyan television channel Alhadat even dismissed her as a spy and a traitor. Even acquaintances phoned her up and asked her whether it was true that she was an agent.