2015 Summit

“My aunt, my hero.” A tribute to assassinated Libyan freedom fighter Salwa Bugaighis

The lawyer and activist played a role in overthrowing Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi

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There are still some patriots committed enough to risk their safety for the right to vote and for the sake of progress. Salwa Bugaighis was one of them, and she gave her life for the cause.

Rima Bugaighis, a Libyan lawyer and activist traveled to the Women in the World Summit to speak about Salwa, her aunt and role model, a passionate feminist and champion for human rights. Salwa fell victim to the political chaos left in the wake of Muammar Qaddafi’s misrule when she was gunned down in her home in Libya in June, 2014.

Rima spoke eloquently about her aunt’s commitment to a “peaceful, tolerant, and democratic Libya.” On the day that she was assassinated, Salwa had flown to Benghazi to vote in an election marked by unrest. Rima shared that her father met with Salwa before she left to ask her to reconsider. “He was afraid for her … but she was adamant,” said Rima. “Salwa responded as she always did. She had a mission which she needed to pursue to the end, whatever the consequences may be.” Her children, she knew, were safely outside of the country; as for her own security, exercising her right to vote was worth the risk. After she cast her ballot, she went on television to urge her fellow Libyans to get out and vote before the polls closed. Several hours later, she was killed.

In an interview with the Global Observatory in 2012, Salwa noted the political disorientation that followed the overthrow of a 42-year old government: “there is just one thinking, Qaddafi’s thinking, and Qaddafi’s theory. So, it is difficult to let the people to respect another opinion. Everything is new.”

Salwa felt a “responsibility to those who sacrificed their lives for the ideals she too believed in,” said Rima, which led to her ultimate sacrifice, and to the kidnapping of her husband, who was with her when she was killed and still has not been located by his family.

Salwa’s “capability of moving people,” in Rima’s words, certainly make her an outstanding example to those who care about democracy. She had spent years courageously fighting for those imprisoned and oppressed under the Qaddafi regime. Yet, despite her dangerous and arduous life’s work, she was full of “joy, and full of love. Love for life, love for her family, and love for her country.” Rima remembered “her courage, her boldness, and her determination.” She knew that there was “no going back.”

Salwa’s death was met with shock and anger in Libya. Typically, only men attend burials there, but women disregarded tradition and paid their last respects to Salwa in the funeral procession. The Libyan people were robbed of an individual who “mobilized and awakened the most beautiful aspirations in all of us,” Rima said, adding that beyond Salwa’s work as a lawyer and political activist, she was “a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a sister. And to me, she was an aunt, a friend, and a hero.”

Salwa Bugaighis, a fierce advocate for democracy and a beloved Libyan patriot who “radiated hope and passion,” would have celebrated her 52nd birthday on Friday, the day her niece honored her at the summit.

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