Human rights group questions fair elections in Libya

CAIRO (AP) — A leading rights group questioned Thursday whether Libyan authorities can hold free and fair elections as long as the rule of law, justice and respect of human rights remain absent.

Human Rights Watch’s statement came on the eve of an international conference on Libya in Paris where world leaders and Libya’s neighbors are pushing for elections to be held as scheduled Dec. 24.

“The main questions leaders at the summit should ask are: can Libyan authorities ensure an environment free of coercion, discrimination, and intimidation of voters, candidates, and political parties?” the New York-based rights group said in its statement.

The group criticized what it said were Libya’s restrictive laws that undermine freedom of speech and association, as well as the presence of armed groups accused of intimidating, attacking and detaining journalists and political activists.

Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. He was captured, and two months later, killed, by an armed group.

The oil-rich country was for years split between rival governments, one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in the eastern part of the country. Each side is backed by different foreign powers and militias. The interim government now in charge was appointed in February after months of U.N.-backed negotiations to lead the country through elections.

HRW called on Libyan interim authorities to revoke all restrictive laws ahead of the elections and to show “a clear commitment” to holding accountable local and foreign fighters who committed crimes during the Libyan civil conflict.

“The upcoming elections are a chance for a much needed reset in Libya and international leaders should take the opportunity to ensure that when Libyans go to vote, they have the best chance to elect their new president and parliament in a free and fair way,” read the statement.

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