Amnesty International Charges that Human Rights Suffer as Libya Stalls on Reform
June 23, 2010
Human rights are suffering in Libya as it continues to stall on reform, Amnesty International has warned in a new report, despite the country’s efforts to play a greater international role.
The new report, ‘Libya of Tomorrow:’ What Hope for Human Rights? documents floggings are used as punishment for adultery, indefinite detentions and abuses of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as well as the legacy of unresolved cases of enforced disappearances of dissidents. Meanwhile, the security forces remain immune from the consequences of their actions.
"If Libya is to have any international credibility, the authorities must ensure that no one is above the law and that everyone, including the most vulnerable and marginalized, is protected by the law. The repression of dissent must end," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.
Violations continue to be committed by the security forces, particularly the Internal Security Agency (ISA), who appear to have unchecked powers to arrest, detain and interrogate individuals suspected of dissent or of terrorism-related activities. Individuals can be held incommunicado for long periods, tortured and denied access to lawyers.
Hundreds continue to languish in Libyan jails after serving their sentences or having been cleared by the courts despite hundreds of releases in recent years, including of those detained unlawfully.
Mahmud Hamed Matar has been imprisoned since 1990. He was first held without trial for 12 years and then convicted to life imprisonment in a grossly unfair trial. Statements reportedly obtained under torture or other duress were used as evidence. His brother Jaballah Hamed Matar, a Libyan dissident, forcibly disappeared in Cairo in 1990. The Libyan authorities have not taken steps to investigate his disappearance.
During its visit to Jdeida Prison in May 2009, Amnesty International found six women convicted of zina (defined in Libyan law as sexual relations between a man and a woman outside a lawful marriage). Four of them were sentenced to between three and four years of imprisonment and two were sentenced to 100 lashes. Thirty-two more women were awaiting trial on charges of zina. Mouna [not her real name] was arrested in December 2008, shortly after giving birth. The hospital administration at the Tripoli Medical Center allegedly informed the police that she had given birth to a child outside of marriage. She was arrested at the hospital, tried shortly and sentenced to 100 lashes.
The Libyan authorities also use the ‘war on terror’ to justify the arbitrary detention of hundreds of individuals viewed as critics or a security threat, following the September 11th, 2001, attacks in the United States.
The United States has returned a number of Libyan nationals from its Guantánamo bay detention center or secret detention, including Ibn Al Sheikh Al Libi, who is reported to have committed suicide in 2009 while being held in Abu Salim Prison. No details of the investigation into his death have been made public. Libyan nationals suspected of terrorism-related activities who return to the country remain at risk of being detained incommunicado, tortured and tried in grossly unfair proceedings.
Amnesty International has observed a modest increase in the flexibility of the Libyan authorities towards criticism. Since late June 2008, protests by families of victims of the Abu Salim Prison killings of 1996, in which up to 1,200 detainees are believed to have been extra-judicially executed, have been allowed to take place.
But activists continue to face harassment including arrest; and the authorities have yet to respond to their demands for truth and justice. Libya has released about 15 prisoners of conscience in the past two years, but failed to compensate them for violations suffered or to reform draconian legislation curtailing the rights to freedom of expression and association. Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, many from across Africa, attempting to seek sanctuary in Italy and the European Union, instead face arrest, indefinite detention and abuse in Libya, the report finds.
The country is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees, so refugees and asylum-seekers risk being sent home regardless of their need for protection. In early June, the Libyan authorities told the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to leave the country, a move likely to have a severe impact on refugees and asylum seekers.
The death penalty continues to be used widely in Libya, with foreign nationals particularly affected. It can be imposed for a wide range of offenses, including activities that amount to the peaceful exercise of rights to freedom of expression and association.
There were 506 individuals on death row in May 2009, around 50 percent of them foreign nationals, the Director General of the Judicial Police told Amnesty International.
"Libya’s international partners cannot ignore Libya’s dire human rights record at the expense of their national interests," said Hadj Sahraoui. "As a member of the international community, the Libyan authorities have a responsibility to respect their human rights obligations, and tackle their human rights record instead of concealing it. The contradiction of Libya being a member of the UN Human Rights Council, while refusing for the body’s independent human rights experts to visit the country, is striking."
The report, which covers developments up to mid-May 2010, is partially based on Amnesty International’s findings during a week-long visit to Libya in May 2009, the organization’s first visit for five years.
The visit followed lengthy negotiations with the relevant authorities, with Amnesty International seeking to visit cities in the south-east and east of the country as well as Tripoli. In the end, the itinerary was limited to Tripoli and a short visit to Misratah. The visit was facilitated by the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, an organization headed by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi who was instrumental in securing Amnesty International’s access to a number of detention facilities and has helped secure the release of detainees.
During the visit, Amnesty International’s delegates discussed the organization’s long-standing human rights concerns with senior government officials, met representatives of civil society institutions and obtained access to a number of detainees held on security grounds or as irregular migrants.
Libyan security officials prevented Amnesty International delegates from travelling to Benghazi as planned, in order to meet families of victims of enforced disappearance, and denied them access to several prisoners.
In April 2010, Amnesty International sent its findings to the Libyan authorities offering to integrate any feedback provided, but received no response.