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Soliman Bouchuiguir - The Libyan League For Human Rights

17 December, 1998

Paris - The following profile is an excerpt from the fifth issue in this series of "On the Record" covering the Summit of Human Rights Defenders in Paris, December 8-11. On the Record is a product of The Advocacy Project, an association of individuals established to support advocates in countries in crisis, or transition, using the new information technology.

He was hitchhiking in Belgium, sometime in the 60s, when a big Cadillac stopped at the roadside. The driver was friendly and fascinated to hear about his young hitch-hiker from Libya (at the time, longhaired like most of his soixante-huitards-compatriots.) As the conversation developed, the young Libyan realized, to his amazement, that he had received a lift from no one less than the king of Belgium. When they parted he stammered: "merci Majeste!"

Soliman Bouchuiguir, 55, told this story over lunch in the lobby of the Palais de Chaillot. He represents the Libyan League for Human Rights, and repeatedly presses the organization's booklet in my hand. It is entitled "Basic Documents in English and Arabic" and has a map of Libya on the cover with a superimposed flame that symbolizes the Universal Declaration.

He points at the preface and the announcement of the League's establishment on March 2, 1989. There are four signatories. All were forced into exile. One of them, Mansour Kikhia, has since been killed by the Libyan authorities when he returned home. "Nobody in this building even knows his name," says Buochuiguir, as he looks at the hundreds of fellow defenders at lunch.

Kikhia was kicked out of the Libya University in 1976 like Bouchuiguir. "The Revolutionary Progressive Committee," a fanatical group that supported the Libyan leader Khaddafi and was modeled on the Chinese Red Guards, had marked them both as anti-revolutionaries. They fled the country soon afterwards.

His friend went back to his death, but Bouchuiguir remained in exile. He moved to Geneva, where he became an international civil servant working for the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Using the city on the lake as his base, he co-founded the League in '89 on the premise that Libya should not only accede to human rights covenants, but abide by their principles. He sums up the main violations in his country as absence of freedom of expression, political prisoners, unfair trials, torture and mistreatment, disappearances, and extra-judicial executions. A new law was recently adopted, making it easier to apply the death penalty to Muslim fundamentalists.

Independent Libyan defenders face some daunting practical problems. It is impossible for them to work inside Libya itself, but it is also hard to leave. Even if they do make it out, how can they find a country of asylum? Libya has been considered a pariah-state for decades, but the European Union has made no effort to offer a refuge to Libyan defenders. Bouchuiguir is a lucky exception. He is one of the few defenders in a position to pay for his own ticket, and he has used this Summit -- like other meetings -- to put Libya and his organization on the map. (Willem Offenberg)

From PANA [Pan African News Agency]

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