Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Human rights violated in the new Libya

While human rights in Libya are improving, there is still some way to go before international standards are reached, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Sunday, 17 February, Libya celebrated the second anniversary of its revolution against the 42-year-long rule of the country’s former leader Muammer Gaddafi. Although Libyans today enjoy a greater degree of freedom than they experienced under that regime, the country has yet to see tangible progress in human rights.

The revolution itself and subsequent period brought numerous human rights violations, including appalling conditions for political detainees that were reminiscent of the nightmare of Gaddafi’s prisons. To a large extent this was due to the inability of the national security agencies to extend their control over the whole of the country, facilitating the proliferation of armed militias and private prisons.

These militias sometimes turn chambers inside their headquarters into detention cells, into which they throw people they have arbitrarily arrested in campaigns of vengeance against those they label “remnants” of the former regime.

International human rights organisations have condemned the conditions in these makeshift prisons, which remain outside government supervision. They have also complained that prison authorities refuse permission to international and local rights organisations for the purpose of inspecting the conditions and the state of detainees.

The most recent case of this occurred on 20 February, when the Tripoli branch of the High Security Committee refused permission to the Libyan Foundation of Human Rights to visit the Imatiqa Prison in the capital. Spokesman for the foundation Nabil Al-Sokni said that the refusal reflected poorly on security officials in the new Libya and that it was an ominous sign that human rights abuses were taking place inside the prison.

Al-Sokni said that a delegation from the Foundation had gone to the prison but had been barred from entry despite government directives that the prison authorities should cooperate with human rights organisations and permit their entry to prisons.

Such incidents have often been occurring because of the many prisons that lie outside the control of Libya’s official authorities, most notably the ministry of justice which is supposed to be responsible for the country’s prisons. 

Hassan Al-Amin, a member of the General National Congress (GNC) and chairman of the Congress’s committee for human rights, told Al-Ahram Weekly that human rights in Libya were not yet satisfactory in spite of the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

Describing the violations that are occurring in the country today as “unsystematic”, he said that work was being done to bring the situation up to international human rights standards and that recent international reports on the state of human rights in Libya had been “quite encouraging”.

Al-Amin said that some human rights organisations in Libya had begun to operate properly, that officials were aware of the need to respect the issue, and that practical measures were being taken to improve conditions.

“Promoting national reconciliation and transitional justice will help considerably to improve human rights, as will the GNC’s National Council for Human Rights which is conducting training in this field in cooperation with international organisations that help train rights activists.”

On conditions in prisons and detention centres, Al-Amin said that most prisons were now under the supervision of the ministry of justice, and he stressed that those remaining outside the control of the government could not be considered to be regular prisons.

Instead, they were places where the victims of kidnappings and abductions were held, he said. “We are pursuing the perpetrators of these acts whenever they come to our attention,” he added.

The GNC’s committee for human rights was organising a conference to which all officially registered human rights organisations would be invited, Al-Amin said, the purpose being to promote cooperation in advancing human rights in Libya.

Nasser Al-Hawari, director of the Libyan Human Rights Observatory, offered the Weekly another perspective. “In the two years since the 17 February Revolution, the state of human rights and freedoms in Libya has not improved. Instead, there has been a huge regression in freedoms with the spread of illegal prisons beyond the control of the state,” he said.

Thousands of Libyans had been illegally detained in these prisons, Al-Hawari said, and they had not only been illegally deprived of their liberty but had also been the victims of abuse, electric shocks, and other forms of torture to force them to confess to trumped-up charges of belonging to Gaddafi’s brigades and fighting against the revolution.

On the steps the Libyan government was taking against such violations, Al-Hawari said that “the authorities, as embodied in the Transitional Council and GNC, have issued a number of laws that are restrictive of liberties. Among these are the emergency law and the law restricting the right to hold demonstrations. Party blocs are also pushing for a new law to be passed banning anyone associated with the former regime from political participation.”

This “unjust law”, as he put it, will affect hundreds of thousands of people. “We have a long way to go in order to strengthen human rights in the new Libya,” Al-Hawari said.

Al-Hawari said that each militia now operating in the country had its own prison, and this made their number difficult to count, especially given the current chaos among the armed brigades operating in Libya.

He also challenged the assessment of the GNC human rights committee. “What Al-Amin says flies in the face of reality. He’s defending the brigades simply because they threaten the GNC. Misrata, where he’s from, is a burial ground for the victims of torture. There are illegal prisons all over the place, holding thousands of prisoners. What are Hassan Al-Amin and his committee doing to help these prisoners?”

A recent report by the international NGO Human Rights Watch stated that there were some 8,000 prisons in Libya, but the Libyan Human Rights Observatory has placed the figure closer to 7,000.

In the opinion of Libyan political analyst Ahmed Al-Aboud, the 17 February Revolution had given the cause of human rights in Libya an enormous boost when compared with the preceding 42 years of one-man rule, political despotism, and the total absence of political and civil rights and liberties.

However, this did not mean that the situation could not be improved. “The Libyan people aspire to more rights and freedoms, especially since the 17 February Revolution was a revolution for freedom and human rights,” he said.

Al-Aboud said that the people being held in secret prisons in Libya had to be handed over to the Libyan authorities so that they could stand trial on any charges against them. Displaced persons had to be allowed to return to their homes, he said, “because this also threatens civil peace in Libya.”

Above all, Al-Aboud hoped that all the country’s forces would now move towards national reconciliation which was “a prerequisite for political, economic and social stability and a guarantee for successful democratic transition in the country,” he said.

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