December 12, 2009

VIII. Impunity for Gross Abuses

The legacy of the abusive practices of the past decades in Libya is a heavy one.[119] Most Libyan dissidents targeted by the regime have sought asylum abroad, though several remain disappeared.  The Libyan government has yet to address the violations of the past through investigation or prosecution. One of the most serious incidents of gross human rights violations, one which has become emblematic in Libya, is the Abu Salim mass prison killing of 1200 prisoners in 1996. 

The 1996 Abu Salim Killings

On June 28 and 29 1996 an estimated 1200 prisoners were killed in Abu Salim prison. This number was first made public by Hussein Al Shafa’i, a former prisoner who was working in the kitchen at Abu Salim and who calculated this figure by counting the number of meals he prepared prior to and after the incident.[120] The number was also confirmed by the Libyan Secretary of Justice to Human Rights Watch in April 2009[121] and in a press release by the Gaddafi Foundation on August 10, 2009 which set the number at 1167.[122] 

In June 2004 and again in June 2006, Human Rights Watch interviewed Hussein al-Shafa’i, the former Abu Salim prisoner, now in the US, who says he witnessed the killings. While the organization could not independently verify his claims, many details are consistent with accounts by other former prisoners.

According to al-Shafa’i, the incident began around 4:40 p.m. on June 28, when prisoners in Block 4 seized a guard named Omar who was bringing their food. Hundreds of prisoners from blocks 3, 5 and 6 escaped their cells. They were angry over restricted family visits and poor living conditions, which had deteriorated after some prisoners escaped the previous year. Al-Shafa’i told Human Rights Watch:

Five or seven minutes after it started, the guards on the roofs shot at the prisoners—shot at the prisoners who were in the open areas. There were 16 or 17 injured by bullets. The first to die was Mahmoud al-Mesiri. The prisoners took two guards hostage.

Half an hour later, al-Shafa’i said, two top security officials, Abdallah Sanussi, who is married to the sister of al-Gaddafi’s wife, and Nasr al-Mabrouk arrived in a dark green Audi with a contingent of security personnel. Sanussi ordered the shooting to stop and told the prisoners to appoint four representatives for negotiations. The prisoners chose Muhammad al-Juweili, Muhammad Ghlayou, Miftah al-Dawadi, and Muhammad Bosadra.

According to al-Shafa’i, who said he observed and overheard the negotiations from the kitchen, the prisoners asked al-Sanussi for clean clothes, outside recreation, better medical care, family visits, and the right to have their cases heard before a court; many of the prisoners were in prison without trial. Al-Sanussi said he would address the physical conditions, but the prisoners had to return to their cells and release the two hostages. The prisoners agreed and released one guard named Atiya, but the guard Omar had died.  

Security personnel took the bodies of those killed and sent the wounded for medical care. About 120 other sick prisoners boarded three buses, ostensibly to go to the hospital.

According to al-Shafa’i, he saw the buses take the prisoners to the back of the prison.     Around 5:00 a.m. on June 29, security forces moved some of the prisoners between the civilian and military sections of the prison. By 9:00 a.m. they had forced hundreds of prisoners from blocks 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 into different courtyards. They moved the low security prisoners in block 2 to the military section and kept the prisoners in blocks 7 and 8, with individual cells, inside. Al-Shafa’i, who was behind the administration building with other kitchen workers at the time, told Human Rights Watch what happened next:

At 11:00, a grenade was thrown into one of the courtyards. I did not see who threw it but I am sure it was a grenade. I heard an explosion and right after a constant shooting started from heavy weapons and Kalashnikovs from the top of the roofs. The shooting continued from 11:00 until 1:35.

He continued:  

I could not see the dead prisoners who were shot, but I could see those who were shooting. They were a special unit and wearing khaki military hats. Six were using Kalashnikovs.
 I saw them—at least six men—on the roofs of the cellblocks. They were wearing beige khaki uniforms with green bandanas, a turban-like thing.

Around 2:00 p.m. the forces used pistols to “finish off those who were not dead.

Around 11 am the next day, June 30, security forces removed the bodies with wheelbarrows. They threw the bodies into trenches—2 to 3 meters deep, one meter wide and about 100 meters long—that had been dug for a new wall. “I was asked by the prison guards to wash the watches that were taken from the bodies of the dead prisoners and were covered in blood,” al-Shafai’i said. 

One family member of an Abu Salim prisoner who died in the incident told Human Rights Watch that a former prisoner who had been in a different section of the prison at the time told him that:

He and others went into the cells of the men who had refused to move. He said they found hair and skin and blood of people splattered on the walls. They saw the piece of a jaw of one man on the floor. Even though they had cleaned up the bodies, they didn’t do a good job, so there were still remnants on the walls and floors.[123]

The killing of 1200 prisoners at Abu Salim amounts to a violation of the right to life, in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPPR) and a fundamental principle of international law accepted by the international community. It may also amount to a crime against humanity, one of the most serious of crimes in international law.[124] 

In addition, in most cases the Abu Salim prisoners had been subject to arbitrary detention in violation of Article 9 of the ICCPR and to enforced disappearance.

Libya is one of two Arab states (Algeria is the other) to have signed the first Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to communicate directly to the committee overseeing the ICCPR regarding alleged breaches of the convention.[125]  In October 2007, the UN Human Rights Committee found Libya responsible for the unlawful detention, torture, and enforced disappearance of Abu Baker El Hassy, who had been arbitrarily arrested and detained in Abu Salim in 1995 and whose whereabouts remained unknown 11 years later when his brother brought the claim before the committee.[126] On July 11, 2007, the UN Human Rights Committee also found Libya responsible for torture, disappearance and arbitrary execution in El Alwani v Libya, Communication No. 1295/2004. [127] It found that Libya had violated Article 6 of the ICCPR on the right to life:

The Committee observes that sometime in 2003, the author was provided with his brother’s death certificate, without any explanation of the exact date, cause or whereabouts of his death or any information on investigations undertaken by the State party. In addition, the State party has not denied that the disappearance and subsequent death of the author’s brother was caused by individuals belonging to the Government's security forces. 

 General Comment 6 on Article 6, states that “The protection against arbitrary deprivation of life which is explicitly required by the third sentence of Article 6 (1) is of paramount importance. The Committee considers that States parties should take measures not only to prevent and punish deprivation of life by criminal acts, but also to prevent arbitrary killing by their own security forces. The deprivation of life by the authorities of the State is a matter of the utmost gravity.”

From Official Denial to Grudging Acknowledgment

For years Libyan officials denied that the killings at Abu Salim had ever taken place.   The first public acknowledgement came in April 2004 when Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi publicly stated that killings had taken place in Abu Salim, and said that prisoners’ families have the right to know what took place.   On July 26, 2008 Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi gave a speech in which he spoke of the Abu Salim killings saying that:

Investigations are complete and have been submitted to prosecution. Prosecution will begin its own investigations and summon people. This won’t be long before the file goes to court and sentences will be pronounced. There will be respectable and impartial judges, and the court will be attended by observers. ... All people will be attending: the families, the press, and civil and human rights NGOs, ambassadors, and everyone will face the truth. [128]

There has been no official account of the events at Abu Salim prison and there is no evidence that an investigation into the events ever took place.  According to Libyan Law 47 of 1975 on prisons, the government must immediately inform the family of an inmate in the case of death, and it must return the body on request.[129] In May 2005, Internal Security Agency head Al-Tohamy Khaled told Human Rights Watch the government had opened an investigation into the 1996 incident.He denied that any crimes had taken place and told Human Rights Watch that “when the committee concludes its work, because it has already started, we’ll give a detailed report answering all questions.”[130]

Four years later, on April 25, 2009, Human Rights Watch asked Secretary of Public Security General Abdelfattah al-Obeidi about the investigation and he replied that “it was still ongoing” and that it was now in the hands of the Secretary of Justice.[131]A day later, however, when Human Rights Watch met with Secretary of Justice Mostafa Abdeljalil he said that “there has not been any investigation into this incident until this point.”[132] 

The Secretary of Justice’s admission to Human Rights Watch reflects the fact that he is one of the Libyan authorities seeking to address the issue through the legal framework. It also reflects the fact that even he has been unable to obtain all the relevant information about the Abu Salim killings from the Internal Security Agency. In April 2008, Secretary of Justice Mostafa Abdeljalil, gave an interview to Libya Al Youm. In it, he said his ministry had asked Internal Security for the list of those who died in the 1996 incident but had been unable to obtain the precise information.[133]

In March 2007 a group of 30 families in Benghazi filed a civil claim before the North Benghazi Court to compel the Libyan government to reveal the fate of their detained relatives.  This was the first collective action by families because, before that, as one of the family members involved told Human Rights Watch, “many of the families were too afraid to take action.”[134] Initially the court dismissed their claim on procedural grounds, ruling on June 24, 2007 that it did not have jurisdiction to review administrative decisions. The families appealed this and on April 19, 2008, the court ruled in their favor accepting jurisdiction. On June 8, 2008, the North Benghazi Court ruled in favor of the families:

The Court orders respondent 1, 2 and 3 [the Prime Minister, the Secretary of Public Security and the Secretary of Justice] to reveal the fate of the following detainees and their place of detention and the reasons for their detention and to officially inform the applicants of their fate.[135]

The court did not, however, address the broader questions of accountability. It did not examine whether an investigation had taken place nor did it order those responsible to be prosecuted. The decision was a victory for the families because it was the first formal recognition of the legitimacy of their requests, but the court was still unable or unwilling to order a full investigation of the events at Abu Salim.

In a December 2008 interview with Quryna, one of the two privately owned newspapers in Libya, Libyan Secretary of Justice Mostafa Abdeljalil said that he had called upon the General People’s Committee (the cabinet) to implement the court decision.[136] It was following this court order that the government began in earnest the process of notifying families of the death of their relatives by issuing death certificates and offering compensation.  

In the context of the continuing official blackout surrounding the Abu Salim killings, the release of prisoner Mohamed Bousidra in June 2009 is significant because, as one of the key witnesses to a mass killing that the authorities denied ever happened, most people expected him to remain detained indefinitely. As an respected figure in the prison, Bousidra was one of the prisoner representatives who negotiated demands with senior security official Abdallah al-Sanussi and is believed to have witnessed the events that unfolded. Security forces arrested him, along with his four brothers, on January 19, 1989 in Al Baydaa and took him to Abu Salim prison. Bousidra’s brothers were released after six years of detention without charge. In 1999, more than 10 years after his arrest, the People’s Court tried and sentenced Bousidra to life imprisonment.  After its abolition in January 2005, he was retried before a special court in June 2005 which reduced the sentence to 10 years. At that time he already had been imprisoned for 16 years and the presiding judge therefore ordered his release. But he continued to be detained at an Internal Security detention center before being moved in 2008 back to Abu Salim prison. His son Tarek was able to visit him on January 31, 2009 for the first time since May 21, 2005. Internal Security finally released Mohamed Bousidra from Abu Salim prison on June 7, 2009 and he moved to Benghazi where his family lives. Bousidra has not spoken out about what he witnessed. 

Offers of Compensation but Not Truth

“My brother has been disappeared for 13 years.  My father died as a result of the sadness. ‘Justice is a right for us.”[137]
Libyan relative of Abu Salim victim, March 9, 2009
“They hide him and kill him and we don’t know where his body is and then ask us to accept this money and reconcile with the state?” 
Brother of Abu Salim victim, May 20, 2009

Between 2001 and 2006 the authorities notified around 112 families, a small fraction of the total number of disappeared prisoners, that a relative held in Abu Salim was dead, without providing the body or details on the cause of death. [138] However, until recently, most of the families had received no official notification about the fate of their loved ones. From January to March 2009, the government stepped up the process, providing verification to an estimated 351 families, of which 160 are in Benghazi, and the rest in Tripoli, Derna, Al Bayda and Misrata.  Libyan Secretary of Justice Mostafa Abdeljalil told Human Rights Watch in April 2009 that, to date, the People’s Leadership Committees had informed the relatives of some 800 to 820 victims of their deaths and had issued them with death certificates; families of 350 to 400 victims had not yet been informed.[139]

In most cases, local police stations and offices of Internal Security have summoned surviving family members and informed them of the death of their relatives, providing them with official death certificates to sign.  In some cases the families have been summoned to the local People’s Leadership Committee and been informed by them.[140]The death certificates have not stated the cause or specified the place of death beyond saying ‘Tripoli.’ The dates of death specified have ranged between June, July or September but none that Human Rights Watch has seen have stated June 28 or 29.  

Many of the prisoners who were killed in 1996 had been imprisoned in Abu Salim since 1989 or 1995, years in which mass arrests took place to crack down on perceived opposition. For years, many families did not even know for sure whether their relatives had been detained in Abu Salim because they had lost all contact with them at their time of arrest. To these families, their loved ones had disappeared.  

Mohamed Hamil Ferjany, former spokesperson for the committee of families who is now in the U.S., told Human Rights Watch about his two brothers who were killed in Abu Salim:

My brothers Al-Sanussi and Khaled Ferjany were arrested in 1995.  Every three months, my family would load up the car with clothes, food and bed linen and drive 12 hours from Benghazi to the prison, in Tripoli.  We put the things in sacks with my brothers’ names on them and left them at the gate of the prison. All this time we were leaving them things, we thought they were safe, all this time they were dead and the security guards were taking the clothes for themselves.[141] 

Another family member told Human Rights Watch:

We knew that he’d been taken by Internal Security in Benghazi but after that we didn’t know anything. I went, my brother went, my mother went to all the prisons - we didn’t know where he was, and they refused to tell us. At the beginning of 1996 we heard about something that had happened in the prison, and then the story started to emerge after people were released.  Fourteen years after his disappearance, in March 2009, Internal Security called us saying we should come to see them – when we were there they said here is your brother’s death certificate and nothing more.[142]

A third said:

My brother’s wife was waiting for 10 years to know about the status of my brother, her husband. Then she died. They had a daughter, who was born right before they took him to prison. Now her grandmother, my sister-in-law’s mother is raising her, but we are helping also. She never got to see her father. He never held her, never hugged her.[143]

For some families the receipt of the death certificate was the first official acknowledgment of their detention and the destruction of all hope. In one day the Taiib family in Mistarah learned of the death of five of its members, the youngest of whom was 14 when he was arrested.[144]

One family member from Benghazi met Human Rights Watch on April 24, 2009, at great personal risk to himself:

About one month ago... someone from internal security came to my door. He said, “Come with me.” He didn’t tell me why or what for. I was scared; I was shaking. Why were they calling me in? What was going to happen to me now? They asked for my ID card, wrote down the details. They took me to the neighborhood where the Internal Security buildings are located. They took me to an office.
 Inside there was one man, and there was a gun – a rifle, a Kalashnikov I think, leaning against the wall. He did not give me his name. He was from internal security. He said, “I want to talk to you. Your brother is gone. Come sign this paper.” I saw the paper. It was a death certificate. There was no reason given for the cause of his death. I became very upset. I said, “Even dogs get a reason for their death.” I refused to sign the paper.[145]

Initially, the government offered families 120,000 dinars (US$98,590) in compensation if the deceased detainee was single, and 130,000 ($106,800) if he was married. By June 2009, however, the authorities increased the initial offer to 200,000 Libyan Dinars ($164,300). A brother of an Abu Salim victim told Human Rights Watch that when his family refused the compensation on principle, Internal Security officers offered to double the amount and to try to facilitate the release of other family members imprisoned in Abu Salim.[146]

The offer of compensation comes with strings attached: the families must give up any further legal claims. For some of the families who have suffered the pain of the disappearance of their relative, the money is not enough.[147] Many families have said that they have a right to justice and anything less than that is insufficient. Interestingly, the authorities have specified that families who accept compensation from the government must relinquish any further legal claims both internally and internationally, which indicates an awareness of the possibilities of seeking justice through international mechanisms.

Although several families in Tripoli and other cities appear to have accepted compensation, most of the families in Benghazi have refused, insisting that they want to know who the perpetrators were and to hold them legally responsible. The Libyan Secretary of Justice, Mostafa Abdeljalil, told Human Rights Watch in April 2009 that “the offers of compensation were made in the context of reconciliation. Around 30% of the families who had so far been informed of the death of their relatives have accepted the offer of compensation, 60% have refused because they think the amount is insufficient and 10% have refused on principle.”[148]  On August 10, 2009 the Gaddafi Foundation issued a statement saying that 569 families had received compensation and that 598 families remained.[149] These are the only official statistics available at the time of writing and their inconsistency is a reflection of the difficulty of obtaining information from the Internal Security Agency.

One man received a death certificate from the People’s Leadership Committee on May 24, 2009, informing him that his brother Fathi had died. He told Human Rights Watch that he rejected the offer of compensation of 120 thousand Dinars as “insufficient” because “they paid 10 million dollars for Lockerbie victims and they offer us 120,000 Libyan Dinars? We don’t want their money, we want the truth and to bury our relatives.”[150]Saad el Ferjany’s son Salah was arrested on January 14th, 1989. Since that time Saad el El Ferjany was only able to visit him once in the first years in Abu Salim and he fears that his son was among those killed but has not received any official notification. He told a journalist that “since the Libyan state refuses to tell us of the fate of our children, we will ask the outside world for our rights... I want to know the fate of my son, and this offer of compensation is unjust.”[151]

Unprecedented Activism – the Demands of the Families 

As the families of Abu Salim victims became more vocal and organized over the years, they started taking action collectively. In April 2008, some families, who had already taken the case to court, went on to form the Coordination Committee of the Families of the Victims to represent their demands.[152] In the context of Libyan laws, which severely restrict freedom of assembly and association and the lack of any independent NGOs, the creation of the committee was ground-breaking.  One committee member told Human Rights Watch that they had tried to register it as a non-governmental organization but Internal Security refused this early on.[153]

The committee also organized demonstrations by the families, at high risk since demonstrations are prohibited in Libya. The first demonstrations by the families started in Benghazi in June 2008, and have continued to take place every couple of months. They have varied from around 30 or 40 individuals to 150 on November 30, 2008.[154] In March 2009, one family member told Human Rights Watch about the intimidation they experience, how the more active members of the committee are summoned for interrogation and at the demonstrations “security forces turn out in force, they are filming all the family members who turn up. Senior security officials come to the demos and tell the older members to go home. All of our posters are about our sons, the truth, nothing against Gaddafi.”[155]

Another family member told Human Rights Watch:

Every time I went to a demonstration I was preparing myself for arrest, my family were afraid for me. Internal Security called me once after a demonstration and threatened me with imprisonment. But I have nothing to fear, four of my brothers were imprisoned in Abu Salim and two of them died there. I am not afraid anymore. I need to talk about it; I feel that by talking to you, you can make my voice heard, not just my voice but that of all the families. [156]

A third said that

Internal security prevents us from talking to people in Tripoli. They want everything to go through them. They don’t like everything the Gaddafi Foundation is trying to do for the people. They follow us everywhere. They harass us all the time.
I love my country. My dream is to improve the educational system in this country. I want to get my PhD; I want to help my people. But they consider me a bad man, a bad citizen. Why? What have I done?[157]

In March 2009, the committee published a list of demands by the families on Libyan websites abroad, calling upon the Libyan authorities to: [158] 

1.       reveal the truth about the fate of their relatives

2.      prosecute those responsible

3.      hand over remains to the families or reveal burial place

4.      issue proper death certificates with the correct dates and place of death

5.       make an official apology in the media

6.      release all other arbitrarily detained family members of Abu Salim victims

7.       increase the compensation to that offered to Lockerbie victims

One of the main coordinators of the committee, Mohamed Hamil al-Ferjany, who left Libya in March 2009 and is currently in the US, told Human Rights Watch that, at the beginning, senior security officials and ministers were engaging with the committee. Security officials invited him to Tripoli for consultations for two weeks in February 2009, in which he met with senior security official Abdallah al-Sanussi and the Secretary of Justice Mostafa Abdeljalil. It soon became clear, however, that there was no willingness on the part of the authorities to prosecute any of those responsible for the Abu Salim killings, he said. Since this was an unshakeable demand by the committee, negotiations broke down. “They think they can solve it through money and that’s enough, so they’ve stopped dealing with the families,” al-Ferjany told Human Rights Watch.[159]

 On March 25 and 26, 2009 Internal Security forces arrested four members of the families’ committee in Benghazi.[160] On the evening of March 25, Internal Security officers arrested family members Hussein Al Madany and Fouad Ben Omran at their homes. Armed officers also searched, without warrant, the home of Fathi Terbil, a lawyer, who was away at the time, and confiscated his laptop. The next morning, at another demonstration by the group, security officers arrested Fathi Terbil. Terbil told Human Rights Watch that security officers asked him upon his arrest, “Why are you doing this Fathi, why in this illegal way? I said the state won’t listen to me, I just want to know the truth, my niece has never seen her father.”[161] Internal security officers detained all three incommunicado for four days and released them on March 30, 2009 after a media outcry and the intervention of Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi.

When Human Rights Watch raised concerns about these arrests with Colonel Al-Tohamy Khaled, the head of Internal Security, he  said that they had “arrested the individuals who incited the violence” and that these family members had used “illegal means because they had not obtained permission to hold their demonstration.”[162]

Despite the threat of arrest and the atmosphere of intimidation, the demonstrations by the families have continued. Since March, families in al-Baida and Derna have also started organizing demonstrations in front of the Internal Security Agency offices.  The biggest demonstration to date took place on June 29, 2009, on the anniversary of the killings, when more than 200 men, women and children walked through the streets of Benghazi carrying banners and pictures of their dead relatives.

Video footage was posted online on Al Manara of women chanting:

“We don’t want money; we want the butchers.”
“Oh Gaddafi where are our children? We want the bodies of the martyred.”
“No, No, No – we will not sell the blood of our children.”[163]

After these demonstrations Secretary of Justice Mostafa Abdeljalil said that those who did not accept the compensation offer were free to resort to the courts and the state would implement any final decision issued by the courts.[164]

Libya’s Obligations Under International Law

Under international law, governments have an obligation to provide victims of human rights abuses with an effective remedy—including justice, truth, and adequate reparations—after they suffer a violation. As a state party to the ICCPR Libya has an obligation to provide an accessible, effective and enforceable remedy “determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy.”

Victims and their families have a right to know the truth about violations they suffered. The UN General Assembly has endorsed the principle that victims’ right to remedies includes having access to relevant information concerning human rights violations.[165] International principles adopted by the former UN Commission on Human Rights state that “irrespective of any legal proceedings, victims, their families and relatives have the imprescriptible right to know the truth about the circumstances in which violations took place.”[166] International human rights bodies have emphasized the state’s obligation to provide information to victims, particularly in cases of enforced disappearance. The UN Human Rights Committee has held that the extreme anguish inflicted upon relatives of the “disappeared” makes them direct victims of the violation as well.[167] In addition to informing the victims and their families, the state has an obligation to inform society in general about human rights abuses, particularly when the violations are serious.[168] This obligation derives partly from its duty to prevent future violations.  

The duty to provide an effective remedy must also include returning the remains of those killed to their families to allow them to provide a proper burial. In the case of Trujillo Oroza v. Bolivia the Inter-American Court ruled that “the delivery of the mortal remains in cases of detained-disappeared persons is, in itself, an act of justice and reparation. It is an act of justice to know the whereabouts of the disappeared person and it is a form of reparation because it allows the victims to be honored, since the mortal remains of a person merit being treated with respect by their relatives, and so that the latter can bury them appropriately.”[169]

Several international treaties, including the ICCPR and the African Charter, require that individuals be tried by “independent and impartial tribunals.”[170] International human rights bodies have consistently rejected the use of military prosecutors and courts in cases involving abuses against civilians, by stating that the jurisdiction of military courts should be limited to offenses that are strictly military in nature.  Sets of principles presented before the former United Nations Human Rights Commission also recommend that human rights cases be transferred to civilian courts. the Draft Principles Governing the Administration of Justice through Military Tribunals, presented to the commission in January 2006, state that “in all circumstances, the jurisdiction of military courts should be set aside in favor of the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts to conduct inquiries into serious human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture, and to prosecute and try persons accused of such crimes.”[171]


[119] See Section IV - Background for further information.

[120] Human Rights Watch, Libya: June 1996 Killings at Abu Salim Prison , June 28,2006,

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Counselor Mostafa Abdeljalil, Secretary of Justice, Tripoli, April 26, 2009.

[122] “Press Release on Various Cases,” Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, August 10, 2009, (accessed August 17,2009).

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with M.I. Benghazi, April 24, 2009.

[124] To establish a crime against humanity, which is among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, there would have to be evidence that murder was “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”[124] The elements to this are that the attack is committed as part of an attack against a civilian population, the prison population in this case, and that this was or was intended as part of a policy of attack against a civilian population.

[125] Libya has not signed the second Optional Protocol, which pledges signatories to abolish the death penalty. It has also not signed the Optional Protocol to CAT, which allows visits to places of detention by the Committee against Torture. In June 2004, Libya signed the first Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which allows the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups.

[126]Decision:El Hassy v. Libya, United Nations Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/91/D/1422/2005, October 24, 2007.

[127]Decision: El Awani v. Libya, United Nations Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/90/D/1295/2004, July 11, 2007.

[128]  “Libya – Truth for All,” Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi speech, Tripoli, July 26, 2008, (accessed Sept. 30, 2009).

[129]Law 47 (1975), article 48.

[130] “Libya: June 1996 Killings at Abu Salim Prison,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 28,2006,

[131]Human Rights Watch interview with General Abdelfattah al-Obeidi, Secretary of Public Security, Tripoli, April 25, 2009.

[132] Human Rights Watch interview with Counselor Mostafa Abdeljalil, Secretary of Justice, Tripoli, April 26, 2009.

[133] “Minister of Justice: we asked security to give us the list of the dead in Abu Salim but did not receive it,” Libya Al Youm, April 24, 2008.

[134] Human Rights Watch phone interview with A.B., March 9, 2009.

[135] “North Benghazi Primary Court Ruling (Arabic),” June 8, 2008, reproduced on Akhbar Libya, (accessed Sept. 30, 2009).

[136] “Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Justice on Abu Salim incident,” Quryna, December 1, 2008.

[137]  Human Rights Watch phone interview with A.B., March 9, 2009.

[138] Libya Human Rights Solidarity, “Abu Saleem Prison Massacre Libya” 28-29 June 1996.

[139] Human Rights Watch interview with Counselor Mostafa Abdeljalil, Secretary of Justice, Tripoli, April 26, 2009.

[140] Human Rights Watch phone interview with M.S., May 24, 2009.

[141] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Hamil Ferjany, United States, August 13, 2009

[142] Human Rights Watch phone interview with M.A., May 20, 2009.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview with Fathi Terbil, Benghazi, April 24, 2009.

[144] “Misratah is informed of its dead in the Abu Salim massacre,” Libya Al Mostakbal, February 18,2009, (accessed Sept. 30, 2009).

[145] Human Rights Watch interview with M.I., Benghazi, April 24, 2009.

[146]  Human Rights Watch interview with M.O., London, June 29, 2009.

[147] For more on the death penalty in Libya see Section XII - the Death Penalty.

[148] Human Rights Watch interview with Counselor Mostafa Abdeljalil, Secretary of Justice, Tripoli, April 26, 2009.

[149] “Press Release on Various Cases,” Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, August 10, 2009, (accessed August 17,2009).

[150] Human Rights Watch phone interview with M.S., May 24, 2009.

[151]  “Families of lost prisoners reject compensation offer” Al Jazeera August 23, 2008 (accessed on July 4, 2009).

[152] Human Rights Watch phone Interview with Mohamed Hamil Ferjany, July 8, 2009.

[153] Human Rights Watch phone Interview with A.B., March 26, 2009.

[154] See news archive on Libya Al Youm, , accessed through 2009.

[155] Human Rights Watch phone interview with A.B., March 9, 2009.

[156] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Hamil Ferjany, United States, August 13, 2009

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with M.I., Benghazi, April 24, 2009.

[158] Letters, Libya al Mostakbal, (accessed September 30, 2009); Human Rights Watch phone Interview with A.B., March 26, 2009.

[159] Human Rights Watch phone Interview with Mohamed Hamil Ferjany, July 8, 2009.

[160] “Urgent Action: Arbitrary Arrest  and Fear of Torture,” Libya Human Rights Solidarity press release, March 28, 2009.

[161] Human Rights Watch interview with Fathi Terbil, Benghazi, April 24, 2009.

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with Colonel Col. Al-Tohamy Khaled, Head of the Internal Security Agency, Tripoli, April 25, 2009.

[163] Video posted on Al Manara at (accessed June 30, 2009).

[164] Muftah Abu Zaid, “In response to to the demonstration by families of the Abu Salim incident, Counselor Mostafa Abdeljalil, Secretary of Justice tells Quryna ‘we have created a committee to resolve the issue in the context of reconciliation but those who do not accept its terms are free to resort to the courts,” Quryna, June 30, 2009.

[165] Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of international Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, March 21, 2006, adopted by the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/60/147, paras. 11 (c) and 24.

[166] Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity, October 2, 1997, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20/Rev.1, principle 3.

[167]The U.N. Human Rights Committee articulated this principle in the case Quinteros v. Uruguay, concluding that the mother of a “disappeared” person was entitled to compensation as a victim, for the suffering caused by the failure of the state to provide her with information. Quinteros v. Uruguay, U.N. Human Rights Committee, Case No. 107/1981: “The Committee understands the anguish and stress caused to the mother by the disappearance of her daughter and by the continuing uncertainty concerning her fate and whereabouts. The author has the right to know what has happened to her daughter. In these respects, she too is a victim of the violations of the Covenant suffered by her daughter in particular, of Article 7.”

[168] Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity, October 2, 1997, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20/Rev.1, principle 1.

[169]Trujillo Oroza v. Bolivia (Reparations), judgement of 27 February 2002, para. 115,, (accessed September 28, 2009. See also  Staselovich v. Belarus, UN Human Rights Committee Communication, communication No. 887/1999, para. 9.2 (2003), (accessed September 28, 2009).

[170] ICCPR, art. 14(1): “Everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 7(1) (b, d); art. 7 states that everyone shall have the “right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal” and the “right to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court or tribunal.”

[171] UN Human Rights Commission, “Civil and Political Rights, Including the Question of Independence of the Judiciary, Administration of Justice, Impunity,” Report of the special rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Emmanuel Decaux, E/CN.4/2006/58, January 13, 2006, principle 9.