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LIBYA: Lawyer and women’s rights defender Hanane Al-Barassi murdered in Benghazi

Thursday 12 November 2020

 Hanane Al-Barassi, lawyer and women’s rights defender was murdered on Tuesday 10 November 2020 in Benghazi, Libya.

Hanane Al-Barassi was a prominent lawyer and human rights activist. She was a well-known figure in the media and frequently spoke out on behalf of women victims of violence in videos that she posted on social networks. Ms. Al-Barassi was known by the pseudonym Azouz Barqa (“the old woman of Barqa”). She also led a local women’s rights group.

Ms. Al-Barassi was a vocal critic of corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations committed by armed groups in eastern Libya.

Ms. Al-Barassi has repeatedly stated on Facebook Live that she supports Khalifa Hiftar, commander of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) group that controls the eastern region of Libya, including the city of Benghazi. She often appeared live on Facebook, discussing alleged widespread corruption by members of certain armed groups and other abuses. She accused members of armed groups of assaulting and raping women, and later retracted some of her allegations.

According to the Observatory of Lawyers (IDHAE), two days earlier, she had appeared in a video clip explaining that her daughter had escaped an attempted murder, adding that she would reveal who was behind it, despite attempts by pro-Haftar leaders to silence her. She had announced that she would release a video exposing the corruption of Khalifa Haftar’s son, Saddam Haftar, the scandal of his recent military promotion and the newly acquired wealth of his family. She said she had received numerous death threats in the days before his assassination.

The attackers first tried to kidnap Ms. Al-Barassi from a shop on “street 20”, a shopping street in downtown Benghazi in the early afternoon of 10 November, but ended up shooting and killing her, according to a statement by the Benghazi security directorate, which promised an investigation. According to the same statement, the gunmen fled in two unmarked cars with dark windows. Ms. Al-Barassi had three gunshot wounds resulting in serious head injuries, said a Benghazi forensic doctor who is aware of the incident.

“The murder of a outspoken lawyer in broad daylight in Benghazi will scare activists across the region,” said Hanan Salah, senior researcher on Libya at Human Rights Watch.

Her tragic death illustrates the threats faced by Libyan women who dare to speak out.

Numerous non-governmental organizations, associations, and government agencies have denounced the assassination and urged the Libyan authorities to take the necessary steps to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of this heinous killing.

The murder of Ms Al-Barassi in Benghazi comes almost a year and a half after the politically motivated abduction of a member of the Libyan parliament, Seham Sergewa, by armed men apparently affiliated to the LAAF, from his home in Benghazi on 17 July 2019. Sergewa was openly critical of Hiftar’s armed attack in Tripoli. Its whereabouts are still unknown.

Salwa Bugaighis, a prominent Libyan lawyer and human rights activist, was shot dead at her home in the eastern city of Benghazi in 2014 by unidentified gunmen. The authorities did not order an investigation, and no one has been prosecuted for her murder.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said in a 10 November press release that “The assassination of Ms. al-Barassi is a strong reminder to Libyans in positions of responsibility that they must put aside their differences and find a comprehensive and rapid solution to the protracted crisis in order to restore justice and accountability and end the prevailing climate of impunity.

The OIAD expresses its deep sadness at the death of a colleague who dedicated her life and profession to the strengthening of human rights in Libya.

The OIAD fully supports Libyan lawyers under threat in the exercise of their professional duties, as well as all human rights defenders in Libya.

The OIAD urges the Libyan authorities to investigate promptly, impartially and transparently the extrajudicial executions and attacks against lawyers in order to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.

The OIAD calls on the Libyan authorities to comply with the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990) in order to guarantee the safety and physical integrity of lawyers, including through the establishment of appropriate protective measures:

“Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities” (Principle No. 17).