Magdulein Abaida, a Libyan human rights defender, supported the revolution that led to Muammar Gaddafi’s fall on October 2011.
After the fall of the Libyan leader, Magdulein campaigned for human rights, in particular, for equality in the Libyan Constitution which was in the process of being drafted, including with her human rights organisation Hakki.
Magdulein was arrested and questioned on two trips to Benghazi in 2012.
On her first trip, she was travelling with foreign journalists filming a documentary. On 19 July 2012, Magdulein and the journalists she was travelling with were arrested and interrogated by security forces for a period of four to five hours.
Her possessions – including a laptop, an Arabic version of the bible, and a book called Veiled and Unveiled by a Syrian writer called Natheera Zein al-Din – were confiscated.
“I want to see the Libyan government acknowledge that violations took place, and provide redress. This is vital if Libya is to address its problems and put in place reforms to prevent violations from happening in the future.” – Magdulein Abaida.
She was questioned about her relationship to a Jewish individual and asked if she preached Judaism.
After Magdulein and the other journalists were released the following day, the three foreign journalists left the country.
Magdulein traveled to Benghazi again on August 2012, for a workshop on women’s rights in the future Libyan Constitution.
On 9 August 2012, Magdulein was abducted from her hotel room in Benghazi by five men, which she believes belonged to the 17th February brigade, a militia group.
She was detained and interrogated. Magdulein was kicked all over her body, verbally abused, beaten with a gun and received death threats. She could hardly move after the beatings.
Following her release, Magdulein was unable to continue her human rights work as she started to receive hate mail and death threats from unknown sources which said that she would be killed if she was seen in public.
Fearing for her safety, she fled Libya and obtained asylum in the United Kingdom in November 2012.
ACTION FOR JUSTICE
In October 2013, REDRESS filed a complaint to the Libyan Prosecutor General on behalf of Magdulein urging him to investigate the allegations. An investigation was never known to have been initiated.
After failing to obtain justice in Libya, Magdulein filed a complaint with the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with REDRESS’ support.
In her complaint to CEDAW, Magdulein urged the Committee to find that Libya violated her rights under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Libya is a party, by arresting and detaining her on several occasions as a result of her women’s rights activism, and for torturing her while in detention.
Magdulein also asked Libya to issue a formal apology for what happened to her and to compensate her for the harm suffered and afford her rehabilitation.
In addition, she urged CEDAW to order Libya to reform its laws and institutions to prevent future violations against women’s rights in Libya and to enable women to participate in Libyan society, including by working as human rights defenders.
CEDAW issued a decision on 7 April 2021, with the Committee finding that Libya violated Magdulein’s rights by failing to investigate and prosecute her arbitrary arrest and torture.
In line with Magdulein’s request, the Committee called on Libya to investigate the events in order to prosecute those responsible, and provide her with reparations, including compensation. It also requested Libya to implement wide-ranging measures to address gender-based violence and discrimination against women committed by public officials and non-state actors.
This is the first decision that CEDAW has made on gender violence against a human rights defender as well as the first one in response to an individual complaint from the Middle East and North Africa region.
The decision recognises that gender-based violence against women includes action taken by or on behalf of state parties, and that the state has a responsibility to work towards eliminating violence against women by investigating and punishing acts of gender-based violence where they occur.
CEDAW has also affirmed that a gender-sensitive approach is needed to assess claims of torture, and that acts of torture which are gender-specific or perpetrated against a person on the basis of sex must be considered as discriminatory torture.
- Case Name: Magdulien Abaida v. Libya
- Court/Body: UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
- Date Filed: 8 March 2017
- Current Status: Decision reached (7 April 2021)
- Legal representation: REDRESS
The UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the body of experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the global treaty on women’s rights, to which Libya is a party.
Photo by Madgulein Abaida.