Libya: New report on human rights 'climate of fear' coincides with first Gaddafi visit to Europe for 15 years

The report, Libya: Time to make human rights a reality, lays out the findings of the Amnesty International’s recent visit to Libya in February 2004, the human rights organisation’s first such visit to the country in 15 years.

The report reveals a pattern of ongoing human rights violations, a continuing failure to investigate and resolve past abuses, and a climate of fear in which most Libyans are afraid to raise concerns over current and past violations.

While welcoming some positive developments, Amnesty International said that a comprehensive programme of reform is needed to address these human rights concerns.

Amnesty International said:

“Libya is at a cross-roads. It has an opportunity to ensure that human rights become a reality at home and that the country can contribute to promoting human rights internationally.

“Libya must turn human rights promises into action. There is an urgent need to establish the truth over past events and for the Libyan authorities to commit to domestic reform to address current abuses.”

Libya is undergoing a period of change with the end of UN sanctions and the process of normalisation of its relations with the United States of America and the European Union.

Given Colonel al-Gaddafi’s visit to the European Commission and Libya’s expressed readiness to enter the EU’s current partnership with Mediterranean countries, Amnesty International believes that the EU must send a strong signal from the outset that, as a basis of this partnership, it expects Libya to deliver on its promises to respect human rights. Amnesty International also called on the EU and Libya to ensure that possible cooperation on the return of “illegal immigrants” respects the rights of people in need of protection.

In a speech to judicial and other officials on 18 April 2004, Colonel Gaddafi called for legal and other reforms and responded to a number of specific concerns raised by Amnesty International**, documented in its new report.

Amnesty international said:

“We welcome Colonel Gaddafi’s speech. We hope that it will give impetus to reforms in laws and practice that will secure institutional change, as well as to accountability for perpetrators and full redress for victims of human rights violations.”

The Libyan authorities have taken some positive steps on human rights in recent years. These include the release in 2001 and 2002 of nearly 300 prisoners, including prisoners of conscience detained since 1973, and the recent opening of the country to a degree of international scrutiny.

However, a pattern of human rights violations continues, often justified under the new rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’.

Amnesty International’s findings include:

  • laws that criminalise the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and association, leading to the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience
  • prolonged detention without access to the outside world, which facilitates torture
  • unfair trials, in particular before the People’s Court which tries political cases
  • torture and ill-treatment, which continue to be widely reported, its main use being to extract “confessions”

Although abolition of the death penalty is promised, capital punishment remains prescribed and used for a large number of offences including the peaceful exercise of political activities. Forms of “collective punishment”, including house demolition, are authorised and practised.

Past policies and events constituting grave human rights violations continue to cast a shadow on Libya’s human rights record. They include:

  • a policy of “physical liquidation” of political opponents during the 1980s;
  • numerous deaths in custody without adequate explanation;
  • the “disappearance” of political prisoners, especially since 1996; and
  • the “disappearance” of Libyan nationals abroad and foreign nationals visiting Libya.

Hundreds of families still do not know whether their relatives are alive or dead, or how they died. Many are too scared to ask. Libyans living inside and outside the country are afraid to report human rights violations for fear of retaliation against themselves or their relatives. Others wishing to undertake human rights work in the country encounter severe obstacles, including restrictive legislation and the possibility of being sentenced to death.

During its February visit, Amnesty International had unprecedented access to prisoners, as well as the Libyan authorities at all levels, legal professionals and charitable organisations. The Libyan authorities promised to seriously consider Amnesty International’s recommendations.

Background

A copy of Amnesty Internationals’ new report was sent to the Libyan authorities in order that they could respond to Amnesty international’s concerns.

The report is available online at www.amnesty.org .

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