Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Libya: New report says human rights reforms 'stalling'

UK’s ‘memorandum of understanding’ deal with Libya criticised

Human rights are suffering in Libya as it continues to stall on reform despite the country’s efforts to play a greater international role, Amnesty International has warned today (23 June) in a new report.

Amnesty’s 135-page report, ‘Libya of Tomorrow’: What Hope for Human Rights?, documents a range of abuses, including floggings 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.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“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 marginalised, is protected by the law. The repression of dissent must end.

“Libya’s international partners cannot ignore Libya’s dire human rights record at the expense of their national interests.

“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 permission for the body’s independent human rights experts to visit the country is striking.”

Violations continue to be committed by the security forces, particularly the Internal Security Agency, 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.

One case highlighted by Amnesty is that of Mahmud Hamed Matar, imprisoned since 1990. He was first held without trial for 12 years, and then sentenced to life imprisonment after a grossly unfair trial. Statements reportedly obtained under torture or other duress were used as evidence. His brother Jaballah Hamed Matar, a Libyan dissident, was forcibly disappeared in Cairo in 1990; the Libyan authorities have not taken steps to investigate his disappearance.
Meanwhile, during a visit to Jdeida Prison in May 2009, Amnesty found six Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights 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’ imprisonment and two were sentenced to 100 lashes. Thirty-two other Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights were awaiting trial on charges of zina. For example, Mouna (not her real name) was arrested in December 2008, shortly after giving birth. Staff at the Tripoli Medical Centre allegedly informed the police of her unmarried status. She was arrested at the hospital, tried shortly afterwards and sentenced to 100 lashes.

The Libyan authorities have also used the “war on terror” to justify the arbitrary detention of hundreds of individuals viewed as critics or a security threat. The US has returned a number of Libyan nationals from Guantánamo or from 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 returned to the country remain at risk of being detained incommunicado, tortured and tried in grossly unfair proceedings.

Libya is one of four countries the United Kingdom has signed a “memorandum of understanding” (MoU) with, deals which are intended to allow the UK to deport terrorist suspects. The UK signed an MoU deal with Libya in 2005 and though a court ruling has so far prevented the UK returning anyone to the country, the UK authorities continue to defend the policy. Amnesty has repeatedly warned that so-called “no-torture” deals are dangerously unreliable, impossible to monitor and could lead to people being arbitrarily detained, tortured or suffering other human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, though Amnesty 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 - 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 EU, also face arrest, indefinite detention, and abuse in Libya, the report finds.  The country is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, so refugees and asylum-seekers risk being sent home regardless of their need for protection. Earlier this month the Libyan authorities also told the UNHCR to leave the country, a move likely to have a severe impact on refugees and asylum-seekers.

Amnesty’s report also shows that the death penalty continues to be used widely in Libya, with foreign nationals particularly affected. It can be imposed for a wide range of offences, including activities that amount to the peaceful exercise of rights to freedom of expression and association. As of May 2009 there were 506 individuals on death row, around half foreign nationals, the Director General of the Judicial Police told Amnesty.

The report, which covers developments up to mid-May 2010, is partially based on Amnesty’s findings during a week-long visit to Libya in May 2009, the organisation’s first visit for five years.

The visit followed lengthy negotiations with the relevant authorities, with Amnesty seeking permission to visit cities in the south-east and east of the country as well as Tripoli. In the event, 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 organisation headed by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi. During the visit, Amnesty’s delegates discussed the organisation’s longstanding 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 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.

Read the full report: 'Libya of tomorrow - what hope for human rights?' PDF

View latest press releases