Activists Welcome UN Security Council’s Groundbreaking Demand For Justice For Salwa Bugaighis
Women human rights defenders have welcomed the Dutch government’s demand for an investigation into the murder of Libyan politician Salwa Bugaighis.
At a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, the Netherlands demanded that Salwa’s murder be investigated and prosecuted. This is a remarkable step as such calls are usually reserved for the killings of present or former heads of government. This may be the first time that a member of the Security Council has demanded an investigation into the killing of a woman human rights defender.
Salwa Bugaighis was a leading figure in the Libyan revolution that overthrew the Gaddafi regime in 2011. A lawyer and human rights activist, Salwa had been among the first protestors outside the courthouse in Benghazi that sparked the uprising, and she was later elected to the country’s transitional administration. In an act that became symbolic of the country’s fall into chaos, Salwa was murdered by an armed gang as she returned home from voting in the general election in June 2014.
To date there has been no independent investigation into Salwa’s murder, or a number of similar crimes.
Activists who worked with Salwa have said that an international investigation and prosecution would be key steps to ending the culture of impunity in Libya. The country has been crippled by ongoing violence, with politically-motivated murders frequently going unpunished. Just weeks after Salwa’s murder former congresswoman Fariha Al Berkawi was gunned down in Derna. In 2015, young civil rights activist Intisar Al-Hasiri was murdered alongside her aunt in Tripoli.
The failure to properly prosecute high-profile killings and breakdown of the rule of law have prevented peace-building and political progress. Rallying under the slogan that “justice for Salwa is justice for all”, activists see the fresh calls for an investigation as a means of finally challenging the culture of impunity.
Hibaaq Osman, a former colleague of Salwa Bugaighis and head of the women’s network Karama, said:
“Salwa Bugaighis was one of the most remarkable women I have ever known. Many people, myself included, believe she could have been the first democratically-elected president of Libya. Her murder was one the darkest days for human rights defenders in the Arab region and across the world.
“We thank Minister Halbe Zijlstra for raising Salwa’s murder at the Security Council, and members of the Dutch parliament for continuing to demand justice. We now ask that the International Criminal Court open a case into Salwa’s murder as part of its investigation into Libya.
“The lack of a serious investigation has heaped tragedy upon tragedy. When killers walk free, it is the innocent who live in fear. The culture of impunity in Libya has emboldened the worst elements in the country’s post-revolution society. If Salwa’s killers finally face justice, it will be an important step to ending impunity, and ushering in accountability for all of Libya.
“In this way we will finally be able to say that justice for Salwa is justice for all.”
Zahra’ Langhi, co-founder with Salwa Bugaighis of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, said:
"Ever since the assassination of Salwa Bughaghis on the day of Parliamentary elections four years ago, the country has fallen into chaos, violence and deep divisions. With two governments claiming central power, a myriad of militias controlling different areas of the country, a culture of impunity dominating the scene, and the political process seems deadlocked.
“The international community has a role to play today by supporting Libya fulfilling its obligations to UN Security Council mandatory Resolutions 1970 & 2174. It has a duty to eliminate impunity, and to respect, protect, and fulfil its human rights obligations. The demand by the Netherlands at the security Council today to initiate an investigation in the assassination of Salwa sets the way forward for Libya. This investigation must be international and independent. There can be no way forward for Libya without establishing peace and Justice first.”