24 June 2007
1. The Republic of South Africa commemorated, Saturday 16 June 2007, the 31st anniversary of the “Soweto uprising of 16 June 1976” in which young persons from the Soweto area (which at that time was a ghetto for blacks) demanded freedom and equality and condemned the apartheid racist regime which, for years, had not allowed the black majority even the slightest degree of freedom and had deprived them of the most fundamental rights of citizenship, such as the right to vote, stand as candidates in elections and participate freely in the management of their country’s public affairs. The apartheid Government used every form of violence, including opening fire on the young demonstrators in order to disperse them and to kill the uprising. No less than 23 youngsters lost their lives as a result of the excessive use of violence used by the racist Government. The uprising constituted a major landmark in the history of South Africa as well as the spark motivating the movement that led to the democratic overthrow of the racist regime on 27 April 1994 when the majority of the people of South Africa of black, coloured and white origin, voted by secret ballot in free, fair and internationally supervised elections and freely elected a national parliament the majority of whose members were from the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela. The first legislative act passed by that parliament was the abolition of the apartheid regime. The same parliament also decided to designate 16 June of every year as National Youth Day in which the people of South Africa would remember the sacrifices made by young people for the freedom and democracy that liberated them from the dictatorship and tyranny of the apartheid regime. The League would like to congratulate the young people of the Republic of South Africa on the occasion of “16 June” and urge them to continue striving for the furtherance of democracy and respect for human rights everywhere.
2. There is a considerable similarity between what happened in Soweto in June 1976 and what happened in Busleem prison, in Libya, in June 1996, especially if we bear in mind the fact that prisons should not be gauged by their surface area but rather by the extent of the restrictions imposed on their inmates, regardless of whether the latter are in the small (area) Busleem prison, the larger Soweto Bantustan or even the vast racist Republic of South Africa. Like the young persons in Soweto, the prisoners at Busleem felt that their human rights were not being respected and that they were suffering from a lack of justice and from degrading treatment and indifference on the part of the administrative and political authorities to their demands for an improvement in their material and moral conditions. However, while the Soweto “prison” protest came out onto the streets in view of the size of the Bantustan, the extent of which allowed the protestors a certain degree of freedom of movement, the protestors in Busleem prison could demonstrate only within their cell blocks due to the limited size of the prison and the severe restrictions imposed on the movement of inmates in that confined space.
3. This is where the similarity between Busleem and Soweto ends and the disparity begins. In Soweto the security forces opened fire on the demonstrators, killing, at least, 23 young persons and wounding not less than 280 others, these being the figures admitted by the Government in an official statement made on 17 June 1976, the day following the commission of that crime of murder. The massacre at Busleem, on the other hand, has never been officially either recognized or even announced up to now, that is 11 years after the massacre took place (28June 1996). The Libyan Government has never, therefore, commented on its circumstances or announced the number of persons who lost their lives (at least 1200 according to some of the prisoners who escaped from the massacre). The file on the Soweto massacre remained open until those directly responsible admitted their crimes, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recorded for posterity as a right of the people of the Republic of South Africa to know the truth about that heinous crime and the circumstances and reasons that led to its commission. Unfortunately, the Busleem massacre has been covered with a veil of secrecy even though there has been a timid development in the attitude of the Government which “clandestinely” contacted, through its security agents during the last two years, some affected families (about 300 families according to reliable sources) and notified them verbally of the “death” or “suicide” of their relatives imprisoned at Busleem, but without specifying the manner or the date of their death or suicide and without handing over any of the bodies or providing any information concerning the place where they were buried. In the same context, last month about 20 families of prisoners at Busleem brought a legal action against the Libyan Government before the Court of First Instance at Benghazi in which they demanded that the Government be obliged to disclose what had happened to their relatives, from whom they had received no news since their incarceration in early 1990s, to reveal their whereabouts, to state the reasons for their detention and to allow family visits to them if they were still alive or to inform their relatives officially if they were dead. The office of the Attorney General has called upon the Court to refuse to hear this case on the pretext that it involved sensitive matters of sovereignty which were outside the Court’s jurisdiction. The Court finally (today 24 June) sided with the attorney’s request and rejected the case as one that lies outside its jurisdiction.
4. It seems that the media in Libya either do not know or do not want to know the points of similarity between the Soweto and Busleem massacres because, while continuing to obscure what happened at Busleem, the Libyan media miss no opportunity to report on what happened at Soweto and to portray it as a unique and unparalleled massacre. Last Saturday, 16 June, the Libyan media commemorated the 31st anniversary of the massacre by publishing articles and reports on the Soweto protest and condemning the brutal manner in which it was handled by the white racists. Even Libyan television, contrary to its custom, began its news broadcasts with a report on the Republic of South Africa’s commemoration of the anniversary of the youth uprising and President Mbeke’s visit to the location of the June 1976 Soweto protest. The League takes this opportunity to express its appreciation to the media for their great concern with Soweto and hopes that they will extend their concern to include all violations of human rights throughout the world, including the violations that are being committed in our country, Libya. Since we are approaching the 11th anniversary of the Busleem massacre, the League trusts that the Libyan media will give equally wide coverage to this pending national file, particularly in view of the fact that the Soweto file has been closed since the overthrow, through the ballot box, of the apartheid regime on 27 April 1994. The principal duty of the media is to facilitate enjoyment by citizens of their “Right to the Truth” concerning, primarily, what happened and is happening in their country, after which the media can broaden their coverage to regional and international matters such as Soweto in furtherance of Libyans’ enjoyment of their “Right to the Truth”. For the media to deal with regional and international matters while disregarding shortcomings and violations occurring within their own country would be illogical, unreasonable and inconsistent with the ethics, morality and mission of journalists and media as it will impede the enjoyment by Libyans of their inalienable right to the truth which is a basic human right.
5. Yes the right to the truth is internationally recognized as an important human rights instrument for the protection and promotion of Human rights through action to combat IMPUNITY. The set of principles set by the UN to govern this important issue reaffirm the inalienable right to know the truth vis-à-vis gross violations and serious crimes under international law as those perpetrated in Soweto and Busleem. Principle 1 states that it is an obligation of the State “to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations” while Principle 2 adds that “every people has the inalienable right to know the truth about past events concerning the perpetration of heinous crimes and about the circumstances and reasons that led, through massive or systematic violations, to the perpetration of those crimes”. As to Principle 4, it simply declares that “Irrespective of any legal proceedings, victims and their families have the imprescriptibly right to know the truth about the circumstances in which violations took place and, in the event of death or disappearance, the victims’ fate”.
6. The Libyan League for Human Rights takes this opportunity of commemorating the 11th anniversary of the mass murder in Busleem prison to renew its call to the Libyan Government to (a) appoint a “Truth Commission” made up of highly respected personalities known for their integrity, candour and impartiality to investigate the Busleem crime and to prepare a report to be represented to the Government. The report, which should have no judicial implications, must find the widest distribution inside Libya in line with the principles governing the Right to the Truth. And (b) to take appropriate measures in respect of perpetrators, particularly in the area of criminal justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for their suffering; to ensure the inalienable Right to the Truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.
24 June 2007