In November 2010, the “Working Group” of the UN Human Rights Council held its ninth session in Geneva and considered, under Item 6, the human rights situation in Libya. In view of what has happened in Libya in recent months and the capture and brutal killing of the country’s former leader Colonel Muammar Al Gathafi, New African has gone back to look at the report issued by the UN Human Rights Council in January 2011. What was said about Gathafi’s Libya at that session by UN member countries, including France, Britain and the USA, bears little resemblance to what is now being said about Libya. Please sit back and judge for yourselves. This is a ditto-ditto (but abridged) version of the Human Rights Council’s report.
The Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, established in accordance with the Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1, held its ninth session from 1 to 12 November 2010. The review of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was held at the 13th meeting, on 9 November 2010.
[Libya’s] delegation was headed by the vice-minister for European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abdulati I. Alobidi. At its 17th meeting, held on 12 November 2010, the Working Group adopted the report on Libya.
On 21 June 2010, the Human Rights Council selected the following group of rapporteurs (troika) to facilitate the review of Libya: Argentina, Norway and Senegal.
Summary of the proceedings
During the interactive dialogue, statements were made by 46 delegations. A number of delegations commended the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for the preparation and presentation of its national report, noting the broad consultation process with stakeholders in the preparation phase.
Several delegations (Denmark, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Mauritania, Slovenia, Nicaragua, the Russian Federation, Spain, Indonesia, Sweden, Norway, Ecuador, Hungary, South Africa, the Philippines, Maldives, Chile, Singapore, Germany, Austria, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Angola, Nigeria, Congo, Burundi, Zambia, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Côte d’lvoire, Djibouti and Zimbabwe) also noted with appreciation the country’s commitment to upholding human rights on the ground.
Algeria noted the efforts of Libya to promote human rights, which reflected the country’s commitment to complying with Human Rights Council resolutions and cooperating with the international community. Algeria welcomed the national institutional framework that had been set up, in particular the National Human Rights Committee. It noted that the country had made some progress in the area of education, as well as social and economic progress since the lifting of economic sanctions.
Qatar praised Libya’s legal framework for the protection of human rights and freedoms, including, inter alia, its criminal code and criminal procedure law, which provided legal guarantees for the implementation of those rights.
Qatar expressed appreciation for the improvements made in the areas of education and health care, the rights of women, children and the elderly, and the situation of people with special needs.
Sudan inquired if Libya could provide it with information about the initiative to distribute wealth to low-income families and whether the country considered this to be the best means to improve the standard of living of families with limited resources.
It noted the country’s positive experience in achieving a high school enrolment rate and improvements in the education of women.
[North] Korea praised Libya for its achievements in the protection of human rights, especially in the field of economic and social rights, including income augmentation, social care, a free education system, increased delivery of health-care services, care for people with disabilities, and efforts to empower women.
Bahrain noted that Libya had adopted various policies aimed at improving human rights, in particular the right to education and the rights of persons with disabilities.
Bahrain commended the free education system and praised programmes such as electronic examinations and teacher training. It commended the country for its efforts regarding persons with disabilities, particularly all the services and rehabilitation programmes provided.
Palestine commended Libya for the consultations held with civil society in the preparation of the national report, which demonstrated its commitment to the improved enjoyment of human rights.
It noted the establishment of the national independent institution entrusted with promoting and protecting human rights, which had many of the competencies set out in the Paris Principles.
Iraq commended Libya for being a party to most international and regional human rights instruments, which took precedence over its national legislation.
It welcomed the efforts to present a comprehensive overview of the human rights situation in the country based on the unity among democracy, development and human rights. It also commended Libya for its cooperation with the international community.
Saudi Arabia commended Libya’s achievements in its constitutional, legislative and institutional frameworks, which showed the importance that the country attached to human rights, and for the fact that international treaties took precedence over its national legislation.
It noted that Libya had become party to many human rights conventions and had equipped itself with a number of institutions, national, governmental and non-governmental, tasked with promoting and protecting human rights.
Venezuela acknowledged the efforts of Libya to promote economic, social and cultural rights, especially those of children. It highlighted progress achieved in ensuring free and compulsory education.
Jordan welcomed Libya’s achievements in the promotion and protection of human rights, including the establishment of institutions, particularly in the judiciary system.
Jordan praised progress in the fields of health, education and labour, as well as the increased attention to the rights of women. Jordan noted the participation of women in public life, including decision-making, and emphasised the fact that women held one-third of all judicial posts.
Cuba commended Libya for the progress made in the achievement of one of the Millennium Development Goals, namely, universal primary education. It noted that the country had also made a firm commitment to providing health care.
Oman commended Libya for its diligent efforts in the field of human rights and for making them its priority. It referred to the legal framework for the protection of human rights, and its clear commitment in that regard, which was reflected in the ratification of most human rights instruments, and its cooperation with United Nations mechanisms.
Bangladesh referred to the progress made in Libya in the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including in the areas of education, health care, poverty reduction and social welfare.
Bangladesh noted with appreciation the measures taken to promote transparency. It referred to the challenges faced by Libya, such as the enhancement of the empowerment of women and migration.
Malaysia commended Libya for being party to a significant number of international and regional human rights instruments. Nevertheless, Libya could benefit from deeper engagement with the international human rights machinery.
Malaysia inquired about the current extent of the application of the death penalty and about the impact of migration flows into the country and steps taken to address migration-related challenges.
Iran noted that Libya had implemented a number of international human rights instruments and had cooperated with relevant treaty bodies. It noted with appreciation the establishment of the National Human Rights Committee as an independent national human rights institution, and the provision of an enabling environment for non-governmental organisations.
Morocco welcomed the achievements in promoting social protection, especially for women, children and persons with special needs. It welcomed the efforts to protect the rights of children.
It welcomed the establishment of a national committee for the protection of persons with special needs. Morocco also praised Libya for its promotion of human rights education, particularly for security personnel.
Pakistan praised Libya for measures taken both in terms of legislation and in practice, noting with appreciation that it was a party to most of the core human rights treaties. Pakistan praised Libya’s commitment to human rights, in particular the right to health, education and food, even when the country had faced sanctions in the 1990s. Pakistan was encouraged by efforts to address the root causes of illegal migration, and noted the good practice of settling political disputes and developing infrastructure in source countries.
Libya’s delegation responded to the issue of the initiative to distribute wealth to low-income families. The programme was related to distributing money through investments for every needy family. Over the past four years, 229,595 families had benefited from the programme.
Regarding services to persons with special needs, Libya indicated that such persons received monthly allowances and were exempt from all fees and taxes, including for electricity, water and transportation. They also had residences and housing units, medical supplies, vehicles especially designed for them, and paid domestic help and home services.
Concerning human rights training for personnel and law enforcement officials, a formal programme had been organised by the state. Personnel were trained through official curricula in all law schools, colleges and universities, including the armed forces college.
In respect of the issue of capital punishment, Libya indicated that the death penalty was applied in aggravating crimes. Some examples of such crimes included bearing weapons for a foreign country against Libya, war crimes, and facilitating enemies entering Libya and passing information to its enemies.
Homicide was also punishable under Shariah law (Qasas). Since 1990, the death penalty had been applied in 201 cases.
Mexico expressed appreciation for the political will of Libya to address the human rights challenges facing it. Mexico hoped that the universal periodic review of Libya would make a positive contribution to national efforts to overcome challenges to guaranteeing the full enjoyment of human rights.
Poland welcomed Libya’s achievements in recent years, including its efforts to combat corruption and trafficking. It expressed concern about cases involving the forced deportation of refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they could be subject to torture or ill treatment.
Switzerland recalled that the right to freedom of expression was a fundamental right, in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter. Switzerland noted that hundreds of people were under administrative detention in [Libya], despite having been acquitted by the court or having already served their sentence. Courts continued to pronounce death sentences and inflict corporal punishment, including whipping and amputation.
Australia welcomed Libya’s progress on human rights and its willingness to facilitate visits by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which demonstrated the country’s commitment to engaging with the international community on human rights.
Australia remained concerned over restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression; the detention of political prisoners; limited rights to fair trial under the new State Security court; enforced disappearances; deaths in custody; discrimination towards minorities; lack of legal protections against domestic violence; and the application of the death penalty.
Canada welcomed improvements made by Libya in its respect for human rights, specifically the recent legislation that granted women married to foreigners the right to pass on their Libyan nationality to their children, as well as the acknowledgement of the deaths of hundreds of Abu Salim prisoners in 1996 and the first in-country release of a report by an international non-governmental organisation in 2009.
Myanmar commended Libya for its economic and social progress, and recognised efforts in domestic legislation aimed at guaranteeing equal rights.
Myanmar noted that [Libya] had acceded to many international human rights instruments and established a national Human Rights Committee. [It] praised efforts to realise basic education for all and a free health-care system.
Vietnam congratulated the delegation on the quality of the national report. It noted with satisfaction the commitment of Libya to the protection and promotion of the human rights of its people, particularly the country’s accession to the main international human rights conventions. It welcomed achievements made in the exercise of human rights.
Thailand welcomed Libya’s national report, which presented both progress and challenges. Thailand highlighted efforts made with regard to education, persons with special needs and vulnerable groups.
Brazil noted Libya’s economic and social progress and acknowledged the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, the free health care and the high enrolment in primary education.
Brazil noted the successful cooperation with international organisations in areas such as migrant rights, judicial reform, and the fight against corruption. Brazil noted that reports of torture were recurrent and that legislation on racial discrimination was lacking.
Slovakia commended Libya for the progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It was encouraged by the country’s cooperation with international organisations in areas such as counter-trafficking, and acknowledged the high standards for children’s protection. However, Slovakia noted that there were certain areas of concern.
Kuwait expressed appreciation for Libya’s initiative to improve per capita income and to ensure social justice and the fair distribution of wealth. It praised the measures taken with regard to low-income families.
Kuwait called upon Libya to continue its efforts to integrate people with disabilities into society while recognising their positive role.
The Czech Republic remained concerned that the death penalty could be applied even to offences that could not necessarily be characterised as the most serious crimes. It also remained concerned that corporal punishment, including amputation and flogging, was prescribed by law.
The USA supported Libya’s increased engagement with the international community. It called on the country to comply with its human rights treaty obligations.
It expressed concern about reports of the torture of prisoners and about the status of freedom of expression and association, including in its legislation, which often resulted in the arrest of people for political reasons.
[South] Korea noted that the participation of women was one of the challenges identified in Libya’s national report, and encouraged the country to enhance the empowerment of women.
It encouraged Libya to continue strengthening its efforts to promote the human rights of persons with special needs, and to reinforce its cooperation with international human rights mechanisms.
Israel noted that Libya should live up to the membership standards set forth in General Assembly Resolution 60/251 and serve as a model in the protection of human rights; while, in reality, its membership in the Council served to cover the ongoing systemic suppression, in law and in practice, of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Sri Lanka welcomed the voluntary pledges undertaken by the government of Libya towards the promotion and protection of human rights, working through regional mechanisms by way of its membership in the League of Arab States and the African Union.
Japan welcomed the progress made by Libya with respect to education and health. It also noted positively the release of political prisoners and the improvement of prison conditions. Japan [however] remained concerned about reports of arbitrary arrest and execution, as well as of cases of impunity. It regretted restrictions on freedom of expression and asked about measures taken to address the problem.
The United Arab Emirates admired Libya’s ratification of the majority of the human rights treaties. It noted with great satisfaction progress made towards the establishment of a compulsory and free-of-charge education system, which had contributed to the realisation of social justice and sustainable human development. Education was extended to all groups, including persons with special needs.
The United Kingdom welcomed visits by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to Libya. It encouraged the country to consider further visits and to issue a standing invitation to the United Nations special procedures.
It [however] remained concerned about the enjoyment of the freedoms of expression and association, and asked for further details in that regard, including on the development of a new press law. The UK encouraged improvements in Libyan prison standards.
Azerbaijan commended Libya for the progress made regarding economic and social rights, such as the achievements in poverty reduction, the assistance to low-income families, the eradication of diseases, the decline in maternal and child mortality, the eradication of illiteracy and the provision of universal education … [and] advances in the field of gender equality.
Turkey welcomed the criminal justice reform project that Libya had been pursuing in collaboration with international organisations. It commended the importance attached to cooperation with human rights civil society organisations and the increasing number of such organisations in the country. It also noted the country’s consent to the establishment of private media as an indication of Libya’s will to reinforce freedom of expression.
France referred to the situation of refugees; allegations concerning arbitrary detention, torture, ill treatment and enforced disappearance; the death penalty, which remained in force for a large number of crimes; the absence of non-governmental organisations with expertise in the field of human rights; and the severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association.
Belarus noted with satisfaction Libya’s determination to raise the living standards of its population, and noted successes in health, education, employment and the social protection of vulnerable groups. It noted the role of the social research centre and ongoing poverty alleviation policies, and lauded measures to benefit persons with disabilities.
In response to questions regarding restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion and the press, Libya reaffirmed that any citizen could freely express his or her views. The country had many independent newspapers that had criticised the administration, and there were other privately owned media. A draft law on this issue was under way but had not yet been enacted, and the 1972 press law would soon be amended to resolve the pending issues.
Regarding corporal punishment, the relevant penalties or sanctions had not been applied for more than 40 years, except in two cases regarding haraba, which was the most serious crime of terrorism. The Penal Code was under review, and such punishment would be repealed.
Finally, Libya invited non-governmental organisations and other relevant stakeholders in the Council to visit the [country] so they could see in person the status of human rights on the ground.