Let me begin by thanking the Winsor School’s Chapter of Amnesty International for inviting me to speak.
The Winsor School mission statement states, “Winsor is a diverse, vibrant community that values intellectual curiosity, authentic engagement and personal integrity. We challenge our students to lead lives of purpose as responsible, generous-minded women.” This means, to attend a Winsor a young woman only needs to be gifted and can do the academic work.
Schools like Winsor exist because America is a democratic country. American government is for the people and by the people, so respects for individual rights, private property and social justice are enshrined into law.
Since I am here to talk about human rights in Libya, it is fair to ask this question, do young Libyan women have similar opportunities to yours?
The answer is no, because in Libya, the fulfillment of citizens’ needs are tied to their absolute and unquestioning loyalty to Mr. Qadhafi. Ordinary Libyans are accountable to a vast security apparatus. Their actions are scrutinized by Orwellian institutions. Should they fail scrutiny, they face Qadhafi’s ruthless death squads, the “Revolutionary Committees”.
What does all this mean?
It means, for a Libyan woman to move up the career ladder; she needs to be connected to the regime's elite or willing to participate in political crimes. One of many examples is Ms. Huda Bin Amr. She is the head of the regime’s anti-corruption agency. She is also a senior member of the Revolutionary Committees.
During the 1980s, Ms. Bin Amr, helped setup execution posts in University Campuses and public squares. She participated in the hanging and mutilation of peaceful Libyan Dissidents. Also, led large mob demonstrations that were design to terrorize the Libyan public, where she actually coined this terrible chant, “We don’t want any more talk, just executions in public squares.” Such domestic terrorism ensures that Mr. Qadhafi and his family continue to hold all levers of power in the country.
In Libya peaceful Assembly and organization are banned and Collective Punishment is enshrined in law.
In Libya, political parties are banned and memberships in independent labor unions or parties are crimes punishable by death. There is also the Collective Punishment law or “Honor Law”, where the State has the right to punish family, city or an entire region for the wrong doing of individual(s).
Such is the structure of Libya, a country that now sits on the UNHRC and sits in judgment over democracies. Allow me to provide you with just four examples of how Libya puts its theoretical contempt for human rights into brutal practice.
The first example is the one that is the least known, the Abu Sleem prison massacre.
In June 1996, Libyan state security massacred some 1,200 political prisoners at the Abu Slim prison, south of Tripoli. To date there has never been an independent investigation into what happened or where the 1,200 bodies are buried. To this date, the families of Abu Slim victims have been unable to give traditional Islamic burial for their loved ones.
The second example is the late journalist Daif al-Ghazal, who was killed by the Revolutionary Committees in June 2005. Why? Because he wrote several Internet articles that criticized the Rev. Comms and their corrupt practices. Daif al-Ghazal, was kidnapped, killed and his body was mutilated. His eyes were poked and fingers were cut off. And what was the message in cutting of Daif's fingers? It was a chilling reminder to anyone who dared to write anything critical about the regime.
The third example is Mansour Kikhia, Libya’s former UN Ambassador. Kikhia came from the family with a long history of service to Libya. He had been a human rights activist, Libya’s foreign minister and ambassador to the UN, but grew disgusted with Qadhafi’s repressive rule. In 1980 Kikhia defected to the United States. In late 1993, he travelled to Cairo to attend an Arab human rights summit. Kikhia was US resident and married to a U.S. citizen. Yet on December 10, 1993, a day that the UN has designated as human rights day, Kikhia was kidnapped by Egyptian agents from his Cairo hotel. The Egyptians handed Kikhia over to the Libyan regime, which executed him. His body has never been recovered. Kikhia left behind a wife and two young children.
The fourth example is my brother Fathi Eljahmi, who dared to call for change in Libya. Fathi was a visionary, blessed with a great mind and a passion for equality and justice. Professionally, he was a civil engineer, an entrepreneur, a former governor of the Gulf province and also former chairman of the Libyan National Planning Commission.
Fathi was first imprisoned on October 22, 2002, because he presented to the Basic People’s Congress a vision for healing Libya and re-defining its relationship with the outside world. Fathi called for the creation of a constitution, a civil society, for free speech, for free enterprise, for investigation into the Abu Slim prison massacre, the war in Chad and the resolution of the Lockerbie bombing, which by the way had led to the economic blockade against Libya. He called on Qadhafi to show sincerity to his own people.
Fathi was released on March 12, 2004 thanks to the intervention of U.S. politicians, among them then Senator Joe Biden, who is now the US Vice President. Fathi refused to be silenced and continued his call for freedom and human rights. On March 26, 2004, Fathi was abducted by Libyan Security and held until his death on May 21, 2009.
During those five years of imprisonment, he endured intense torture, isolation and slow death. He was kept away from his family for nearly two years. He was shackled in a windowless room without sunlight and served food that was not fit for human consumption. For two years, he was deprived of medications for hypertension, advanced stage diabetes, and a heart condition.
The result of the Libyan regime’s slow medical torture and neglect was that Fathi slipped into a coma. The Libyan regime did not even allow him to die in his own country. On May 5, 2009, the Libyan regime flew my comatose brother to a hospital in Jordan where he died. He returned home in the cargo hold of a passenger jet.
By contrast, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi , the terrorist responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, was released by the Scottish authorities in August 2009 and flown home in the company of the dictator’s son and senior Libyan officials on Qadhafi’s personal plane to a hero’s welcome. Scotland released the mass murderer al-Megrahi on “compassionate grounds”—compassion being precisely what the Libyan regime has always denied its citizens. Lockerbie bombing resulted in the death of 270 people in air and on the ground, about 190 of them were Americans.
At the UN in Geneva, I have called on the UN Human Rights Council to launch an international and independent investigation in the Abu Slim prison massacre. I have called on the UN Human Rights Council to investigate Fathi’s imprisonment and to investigate torture in Libya. I also called for an investigation into the role played by the Arab Medical Centre in Amman, Jordan, where my brother died. The Arab Medical Centre in Amman refuses to turn over Fathi’s medical report to the family.
What has happened to my calls for investigations? Thus far, nothing. The UN did nothing for human rights in Libya even when Libya was an international pariah.
Democratic countries, like the US, France and the UK have also failed to protect human rights in countries where citizens are at their most vulnerable. It doesn’t take a great deal of wisdom to know that the Qadhafi regime is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. Yet, in 2003 Libya was elected to chair the UN Human Rights Commission and in May 2010; Libya won election to the UN’s supposedly reformed human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council.
In closing. Please cherish the great educational and growth opportunities you currently have, but also think about your Libyan sisters in humanity. The ones who are destitute and gifted but refuse to follow the path of Huda Bin Amr.
When given a fair opportunity, Libyan women have proven to be capable of answering the call. Also, through, your work with Amnesty, please help bring awareness to the plight of the Libyan people, who have been living under the rule of brutal dictatorship for the past 41 years.
May every victim of Muammar Qadhafi’s international and domestic terror rest in eternal peace.
Thank you for listening.