Libya: UN experts call for a swift and rigorous response to the destruction of Sufi sites

GENEVA (10 September 2012) – Three United Nations independent experts strongly condemned the destruction of Sufi religious and historic sites in various parts of Libya, and the intimidation and excessive use of force against unarmed protesters opposing the destruction. “The attacks on Sufi religious sites require a swift and rigorous response by the authorities, without which they are likely to continue and spread,” they warned.

“These events amount to the violation of numerous human rights provisions,” said the experts, highlighting the right to freedom of religion and belief, including the rights of religious minorities to the protection of their places of worship, and the right to enjoy and access cultural heritage.” They urged the Libyan authorities to take all necessary measures to protect places of cultural and religious significance that may also be threatened.

The destruction of Sufi sites started in October 2011 in Tripoli and continued in 2012 in other parts of Libya. In August 2012, several sites were destroyed, including one of Libya’s most important Sufi shrines, Sidi Abdul- Salam al-Asmar al-Fituri in Zliten and the Al-Sha’ab Mosque in central Tripoli. Tombs were desecrated and libraries were also targeted.

“Attacks on places of worship and the desecration of cemeteries violate not only the rights of individual believers, but also send an intimidating signal to various communities attached to the places in question,” said Heiner Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. “The long term prospects for freedom of religion or belief and religious diversity in the entire country seem to be at stake.”

“These deliberate acts of destruction are attacks on people’s identities, beliefs, their history and their dignity and cannot be tolerated,” said Farida Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. “Behind these attacks is a desire to eradicate all cultural diversity which reflects our shared humanity.”

The UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, expressed her alarm over “the wanton and widespread destruction of important minority religious sites that has taken place before the eyes of the authorities and with no steps to prevent it.” She also raised concern over the security of minority Sufis in Libya, noting that the destruction “should be an early warning resulting in immediate protection measures for Sufis, and their places of worship, who are evidently at risk of attack.”

The UN experts also expressed concern at reports that the Libyans authorities did not seek to stop the demolitions, and that peaceful protestors of the demolition of the Al-Sha’ab mosque were physically threatened.

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