Prohibitions on Candidacy Vague and Imprecise
April 28, 2012

After decades of corrupt dictatorship, public officials should meet high standards of integrity. But exclusion from public office should be based on concrete and provable claims of wrongdoing, rather than poorly defined connections with the previous government.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) – Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) should amend regulations to eliminate vague and broad prohibitions on who may serve as a government official or become a candidate for election, Human Rights Watch said today. Libya’s first national elections since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi are scheduled for June 2012.

The current regulations prohibit people from holding senior government posts or running for office if they were “known for glorifying” the previous government or they “stood against the February 17 revolution” that overthrew Gaddafi. The standards and procedures to determine whether an individual meets these and a host of other criteria are unclear, Human Rights Watch said.

“After decades of corrupt dictatorship, public officials should meet high standards of integrity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But exclusion from public office should be based on concrete and provable claims of wrongdoing, rather than poorly defined connections with the previous government.”

Anyone the NTC or transitional government wishes to bar from public office should be presented with evidence of specific wrongdoing that warrants the exclusion, and given the chance to rebut the charges before a neutral body, Human Rights Watch said.

The government body mandated to vet senior officials and candidates is called the High Commission for the Implementation of the Integrity and Patriotism Standard, created on April 4 by NTC Regulation No. 26. The NTC appoints the commission’s chair – currently Hilal Ezzedin Sanussi – and its members.

The Integrity and Patriotism Commission, as it is known, vets candidates for the elections as well as NTC and transitional government members, senior security officials, ambassadors, heads of government institutions and companies, heads of universities, and heads of unions.

The commission is required to vet people seeking top government posts within 21 days of receiving a filled-out questionnaire, curriculum vitae, and financial disclosure statement.  What happens if the commission does not complete a review within that time is unclear. Under the regulation, the commission may conduct investigations, but the parameters of those investigations are not specified.   

It is also unclear if the vetting applies retroactively to people currently holding senior positions in the NTC or transitional government.

People rejected by the vetting commission may appeal to an appeals court within 10 days, and a judge must issue a final ruling within 21 days after the appeal has been filed.

The commission has an expedited procedure for people wishing to run in the June elections. The commission has five days to review these applications and, under an amendment to the electoral law passed on April 17, the court must review an appeal within five days of its submission.

NTC Regulation 26 says the commission will have procedural rules, but those rules have not been made public. Without clear operating guidelines for the commission, the process of vetting and reviewing appeals remains disturbingly vague, Human Rights Watch said.

“It is terribly unclear how the vetting commission will decide who can and cannot participate in the new Libya’s political life,” Whitson said. “Clear criteria and transparency are needed to make sure the process is democratic and based on principles of law.”

NTC Regulation 26 also presents the criteria that individuals must meet to hold public office. It says that people may hold senior posts – including ministers, ambassadors, heads of security and military agencies, and officials in the Interior and Foreign Ministries – if proven without doubt that they “joined the February 17 Revolution before March 20, 2011.” The definition of “joined” is not specified.

According to the regulation, under no circumstances may people in the following categories, among others, hold public office in Libya:

  • Members or commanders of the Revolutionary Guards;
  • Members of the Revolutionary Committees;
  • Student association directors after 1976;
  • Those who were “known for glorifying the regime of Muammar Gaddafi or his call for the ideas of the Green Book [Gaddafi’s political philosophy], whether through various media or public speeches;”
  • Those who “stood against the February 17 Revolution” by means of incitement, aid, or collusion;
  • Those who were convicted of corruption or stealing public funds;
  • Those who participated in any capacity in the imprisonment and torture of Libyans during the rule of the former regime;
  • Those who committed or participated in hostile acts against Libyans in the opposition, whether abroad or in Libya;
  • Those who seized private property or participated in seizing property during the previous regime;
  • Those who were involved in stealing public funds or enriched themselves on behalf of the Libyan population, or who accumulated wealth in Libya or abroad in an illegal manner;
  • Those who had commercial dealings with the sons of Muammar Gaddafi or his close associates;
  • Those who formerly held positions of leadership that directly related to the sons of Muammar Gaddafi, and their institutions;
  • Recipients of awards or money from the former regime by illegal means;
  • Those who obtained an academic degree on a subject related to the Gaddafi’s Green Book or Third Universal Theory.

Excluding candidates for elections on vague and overbroad grounds violates international standards for free and fair election, Human Rights Watch said.

As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Libya is obligated to allow its citizens equal opportunity to compete as candidates in an election, without being subject to “unreasonable restrictions.” The covenant requires that elections guarantee the “free expression of the will of the electors.”

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, also ratified by Libya, requires states to ensure that every citizen has the right to participate freely in the government of the country.

In determining eligibility to hold positions of political authority, Human Rights Watch called on the Libyan government to:

  • Refrain from basing judgments on eligibility solely on past or present associations. In the case of affiliations with government bodies or organizations considered to have acted in a criminal, corrupt, or repressive manner, the authorities should require clear and convincing evidence that the person knowingly and actively furthered criminal practices of the government body or organization;
  • Provide anyone facing such charges with the evidence against them and a fair hearing before an impartial tribunal, and the right to appeal the tribunal’s decision to the regularly constituted courts;
  • Establish accountability measures for past crimes of corruption or involvement in human rights abuses through a transitional justice process that comprehensively addresses longstanding abusive practices transparently and fairly.
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