UN rights chief condemns murder of 21 Christians in Libya, urges rejection of ‘takfiri groups’

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

17 February 2015 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said today that the beheading of 21 Christian men in Libya was a “vile crime targeting people on the basis of their religion” and urged Libyans to unite against extremists.

“The brutal murder of these men, and the ghastly attempt to justify and glorify it in a video, should be roundly condemned by everyone, in particular by the people of Libya who should resist the urgings of takfiri groups,” High Commissioner Zeid said, referring to the ideology where one believer apostasies another and then condemns them as impure. “Murdering captives or hostages is prohibited under international law and Islamic law.”

The mass beheading – of 20 Coptic Christians and apparently another Christian man – took place against the backdrop of increasing lawlessness in Libya as armed conflict continues.

“This is not the first time that Coptic Christians have been targeted in Libya or elsewhere in the region,” said Mr. Zeid. “UN human rights staff have documented several incidents involving abductions of Egyptian Copts in Libya.”

A UN human rights report on Libya was released last week, detailing rampant violence and lawlessness. It found that civilians in general are affected but specific groups, such as Coptic Christians, are targeted. In December last year, the bodies of three members of a Coptic Christian family were found in Sirte, while Churches and other religious sites have also been attacked in Libya over the past three years.

As the Egyptian Government launched airstrikes in response to the latest atrocity, Mr. Zeid warned that any response must ensure full respect of the principles of distinction between civilians and fighters, and civilian objects and military objectives.

Along with Coptic Christians, other minorities, as well as migrants, journalists and human rights defenders, are subject to attacks. On Saturday, UN staff received reports that the director of the human rights group, the National Commission for Human Rights, Hadi Ben Taleb, and one of its board members, Ahmed Osta, had been abducted by the al-Sa’dawi armed group in Tripoli.

No information has since emerged on their fate or whereabouts. Mr. Zeid called for the release of the two men and, pending that, for their relatives to be informed of their location.

The High Commissioner urged all parties in Libya to work towards a meaningful dialogue to bring to an end the current conflict. In particular, he urged constructive engagement with the efforts of Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Bernardino León to advance an inclusive political process aimed at addressing Libya’s daunting political and security challenges.

“This is the only solution,” said Mr. Zeid. “The path to a peaceful and prosperous Libya – like anywhere else – involves upholding everyone’s human rights, irrespective of faith, ethnicity or political affiliation. Joining, copying or giving in to groups that glorify blood-letting is akin to buying a one-way ticket to disaster, not just for yourself, but for your relatives and your entire society. Adopting extremist takfiri behaviour will simply add layer upon layer of suffering on an already suffering country – as we have seen all too clearly in Syria and Iraq.”

Later in the day at Headquarters in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt.

Mr. Ban, according to his spokesperson, reiterated his condemnation of the killing of 21 Egyptians in Libya by Da’esh. He also discussed with the Minister issues of mutual concern, including the situations in Libya and Gaza, and the fight against terrorism.

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