NGO Panel Event at United Nations European Headquarters, Geneva
“Libya on the UN Human Rights Council”
Hosted by UN Watch, September 16, 2010
Thanks to UN Watch and Freedom House. I am honored to be here with you to speak about my late brother Fathi Eljahmi and his struggle to advance democratic reform and human rights in Libya.
Libya’s long night began on September 1, 1969, when Muammar Qadhafi led a coup, which overthrew a constitutional Monarchy. At the time, Libya was a young country trying to find its way. It wasn’t perfect but it was in a much better shape than the Libya today.
Today, in Qadhafi’s 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).
In Libya, the fulfillments 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”.
In the political climate that emerged in Libya to be a dissident was to risk jail, disappearance, torture, and even death.
Yet, on August, 13 1991, Fathi Eljahmi wrote a letter that eloquently described the situation in Libya to Mr. Qadhafi. He said that, “I told your aides namely, Mustafa Kharobi and Abdala Mansour, the country will eventually face disaster, because power has grown for few, while apathy and corruption and terror have become pervasive within society. Young and old know that the Qadhafis are the sole decision makers and I believe that is true.”
It was in this suffocating and dangerous context that Fathi Eljahmi, chose to speak out for free speech and human rights. He was a courageous man. He was also my mentor and a father figure. He was an unconditionally loving and generous husband, son, and brother.
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.
On October 22, 2002, he committed the “crime” that would eventually lead to his heroic death. He presented to the Basic People’s Congress a vision for healing Libya and re-defining its relationship with the outside world.
He called for the creation of a constitution, free speech, free enterprise, investigation into the Abu Slim prison massacre, the war in Chad and the resolution of the Lockerbie bombing, which had led to the economic blockade against Libya. He called on Mr. Qadhafi to take moral responsibility for the Lockerbie and UTA bombings as well as the wars in West Africa. He called on Mr. Qadhafi to show sincerity to his own people.
That day Fathi was taken straight to prison and he spent the next 17 months there until then Senator Biden interceded on his behalf.
After his release, Fathi refused to be silenced and continued his call for freedom and human rights.
From March 26, 2004, when he was detained again, and until his death on May 21, 2009, Fathi was held endured intense torture, isolation and slow death. He was isolated from the outside world for nearly two years. He was not even allowed to see his family. 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.
Fathi’s wife and children were detained and interrogated for hours at a time. In April 2008, for example, Fathi’s wife, who is 58 year old and also a diabetic, was interrogated for hours by state security along with her children. The interrogation was conducted by General Mustafa Muakaf, a violent thug with a reputation for brutality. As Muakaf interrogated Fathi’s family members, an officer stood steps away with a machine gun.
Eventually, Fathi slipped into a coma due to torture and medical neglect. On May 5, 2009, the Libyans flew my brother to a hospital in Jordan where he died.
Fathi was not the only Libyan to give his life for freedom and human rights.
In 1993 – one month before receiving his US citizenship – dissident and former diplomat Mansour Kikia was kidnapped by Libyan intelligence from a Cairo hotel. He was smuggled to Libya where he was executed by the Qadhafi regime.
Likewise, journalist Daif al-Gazal was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in June 2005. Daif’s “crime?” Writing Internet articles criticizing regime policies.
In June 1996, Libyan state security massacred some 1,200 political prisoners at the Abu Slim prison, south of Tripoli. There has never been an independent investigation into what happened or where the bodies were buried.
For years, the families of Abu Slim victims were tricked into believing their loved ones were alive. Families would drop off food, clothing and medicine at the prison for their loved one, but the prison Warden Amr Meslati would make other prisoners remove the name tags of the items so he could sell them at his Tripoli store.