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(Nairobi) - The African Union (AU) should put pressure on Libya to comply with the African Court's order to halt attacks on civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling, on March 25, 2011, was the first against a state by the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Court).

The African Court, in response to an application from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights alleging serious and massive violations of human rights in Libya, ordered Libya to "immediately refrain from any action that would result in loss of life or violation of physical integrity of persons." It instructed Libya to report on the measures taken to implement the order within 15 days, but Libya has neither halted the attacks nor responded, Human Rights Watch said.

"Not a word from Libya though the deadline set by the court has expired, and the human rights situation on the ground remains precarious," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The AU should be insisting on compliance with its court's ruling."

The AU's ongoing efforts at mediation in Libya are commendable, but do not lessen Libya's obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' rights and the protocol establishing the African Court, Human Rights Watch said.

The application to the court from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights presented strong evidence of serious and widespread violations of human rights in Libya. These include the unlawful detention of opponents, indiscriminate shooting of demonstrators, and excessive use of heavy weapons and machine guns against the population. The Court ordered provisional measures based on a finding that the Libyan case was of extreme gravity and urgency.

"The African Union bears primary responsibility for ensuring enforcement by its member states of all decisions by the African Court," Bekele said. "The ongoing conflict in the country does not give Libya any excuses to continue human rights violations."

The African Court came into force in January 2004 after the protocol establishing it had been ratified by the required minimum of 15 nations. It was designed as a mechanism to promote and protect human and peoples' rights in Africa along the lines defined by the African Charter. Libya has ratified both the African Charter and the protocol to the charter establishing the African Court. The AU's Executive Council is responsible for monitoring implementation of the Court's rulings.

"The African Union needs to keep tabs on how member states comply with its court's decisions," Bekele said. "If Libya gets away with ignoring the court's very first decision against a state, it will undermine the African Union's efforts to build a credible human rights regime on the continent."

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