Detainees Describe Solitary Confinement, No Access to Lawyers
(Beirut) – Libya has failed to grant basic due process rights to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and other detained former officials of the Gaddafi government.
On January 23, 2014, Human Rights Watch interviewed Gaddafi in an office at a base in the town of Zintan. The base is under the control of a guard force that is detaining Gaddafi at an undisclosed location, and says it operates under Defense Ministry authority. Human Rights Watch also visited the former military intelligence chief Abdullah Sanussi and former Prime Ministers al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi and Abuzaid Dorda, in Al-Hadba Corrections Facility in Tripoli on January 23. Libyan Judicial Police are, at least formally, in charge of administering the prison. The General Prosecutor authorized the visits, the Libyan Government facilitated the visit at Al-Hadba, and the Zintan Local Council facilitated the visit to Gaddafi.
“The Libyan government should make greater efforts to ensure these detained former officials have adequate legal counsel and the opportunity to defend themselves fairly before a judge,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “The prosecution of these men will be no more credible than a kangaroo court if the authorities fail to provide these men with basic due process rights.”
Gaddafi and Sanussi said they do not have a lawyer, while Dorda and al-Mahmoudi said they have been denied adequate access to their legal counsel. All four detainees said that they did not have lawyers present during interrogations, the right to remain silent and to know their interrogators’ identity, or an opportunity to review the evidence submitted against them in relation to crimes they allegedly committed during the 2011 uprising. Gaddafi said he did not have an opportunity to appear before a judge for all cases in which he is implicated.
On October 24, 2013, Judge al-Zayed al-Oreibi of the Pretrial Chamber of the Tripoli Appeals Court charged these four detainees, along with 33 other former Gaddafi officials and employees, with serious crimes during the February 17 revolution that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
The charges were laid at the third and final pretrial session held in the Al-Hadba facility in Tripoli. The judge ordered the case sent to trial (case no.630, “the Government Officials Case”) without setting a date. Under the Libyan Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP), the pretrial judge must review the sufficiency and reliability of the prosecutor’s evidence and establish the precise charges (CCP article 153). According to article 151 of the same code, the case must be dismissed if the evidence is found to be insufficient or has been illegally obtained. If a case is remitted to trial, and a defendant has not elected a lawyer, article 162 stipulates the chamber must appoint one.
Libya’s general prosecutor told Human Rights Watch on September 18 that neither pretrial sessions nor the court documents, including charge sheets, are public. Although Human Rights Watch was not permitted to attend the court sessions, it was able to review the charges.
Gaddafi was not present for any of the sessions but said he knew of some criminal charges against him. While the other three detainees were present for at least one of the pretrial sessions, Dorda told Human Rights Watch that the prison authorities failed to bring him to the court for the third and final session even though he is detained in the facility where it was held. Due to lack of public access and records, Human Rights Watch could not determine who among the 37 people charged was in the courtroom for the pretrial sessions.
Human Rights Watch was able to meet with the four detainees individually and in private, without the physical presence of a guard. Human Rights Watch met with Gaddafi for approximately 45 minutes, and with Sanussi, Dorda, and al-Mahmoudi, for 15 to 20 minutes each. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify whether prison authorities were monitoring in any way meetings. All detainees were aware that Human Rights Watch would publish what was said under their names.
Gaddafi and Sanussi said they have been held without access to legal counsel throughout their detention in Libya; Al-Mahmoudi and Dorda said they have had access to their lawyers but were unable to meet with them in private to prepare their defense. Al-Mahmoudi and Dorda said their lawyers had no access to court documents, witness statements, or the evidence against them.
All four described multiple interrogation sessions without legal counsel with people who seemed to be both official and unofficial interrogators. While all four have appeared before a judge at some point, Gaddafi has not appeared before the Tripoli pretrial chamber that charged him with serious crimes. All four said they have not had the chance to review the evidence against them.
A lawyer for one of the detainees said that the judge summoned no witnesses at any of the pretrial sessions, and that lawyers present for other defendants in the group trial, were not able to review the more than 4,000 pages of testimony and 70,000 pages of evidence and statements submitted by the prosecution, though they had made the request.
Sanussi, Dorda and al-Mahmoudi said they signed statements prepared by their interrogators after a number of interrogation sessions, but did not have the chance to review them for accuracy. Gaddafi said that prosecutors had coerced him into signing multiple confessions.
Despite the numerous challenges the Libyan government faces, it should seek to provide Gaddafi and Sanussi with immediate access to a lawyer of their choosing, and ensure that all four have unfettered and privileged access to their legal counsel and a meaningful opportunity to confront the evidence against them, Human Rights Watch said.
During a court session on January 15 relating to one of the cases against him, Dorda alleged that he was beaten and injured by an unidentified person in his prison cell at Al-Hadba. Human Rights Watch spoke with family members who attended that court session and reviewed a complaint about the incident that Dorda’s lawyer submitted to the General Prosecutor’s Office demanding an investigation.
Libyan authorities should immediately and thoroughly investigate Dorda’s serious allegations of ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said.
“Under these circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how any of these men can have a fair trial in Libya,” Houry said. “Libya has done little to provide even a basic modicum of due process rights for these detainees, who, like thousands of others detained since the uprising, have been held in detention with no meaningful access to a lawyer or a judge.”
Under Libya’s Code of Criminal Procedure, a detainee has the right to a lawyer during investigation if he asks for one. In addition, the code stipulates that the pretrial chamber must appoint a lawyer for the defendant, should he not have elected one, if the chamber remits the case to trial. If a defendant is not able to appoint a lawyer then the court must appoint one for him. Libya’s interim Constitutional Declaration of August 3, 2011, provides for a “fair trial at which [the accused] has the guarantees necessary for exercising his right of defense.”
International standards, including the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, require giving defendants prompt access to a lawyer, no later than 48 hours after arrest, and adequate opportunities to […] communicate and consult with a lawyer, without delay, interception or censorship and in full confidentiality […].”
International law prohibits anyone from being compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt. Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Libya ratified in 1970, affirms fair trial rights and states that no one should be “compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt” should criminal charges be determined against him. The ICCPR also requires Libya to ensure that anyone detained is brought promptly before a judge or equivalent.
“All detainees in Libya, including former Gaddafi officials, deserve their full due process rights, including access to a lawyer of their own choosing,” Houry said. “The Libyan government is undermining any possibility that it will try these men fairly by not abiding by basic Libyan and international due process guarantees.”
For additional information on conditions of their detention, the fair trial issues, involvement of the International Criminal Court, and other background, please see below.
Conditions of Detention
Three of the four former officials said they had been held in solitary confinement for long periods and had few, if any, family visits and some had limited or no access to reading material, television, or radio. Gaddafi, Sanussi, and Dorda are held in solitary confinement. At the time of the visit, al-Mahmoudi was held in a group cell with 14 other detainees.
Dorda and al-Mahmoudi said authorities allowed them one family visit per month, and al-Mahmoudi said prison authorities allowed him two phone calls a month in addition to the visits. Gaddafi said he has had no family visits since his apprehension on November 19, 2011. Sanussi said he has had one family visit and one video conference call with a family member.
The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners stipulates that prisoners “shall be allowed under necessary supervision to communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals, both by correspondence and by receiving visits.”
Each of the detainees told Human Rights Watch during the interviews that he did not know whether his comments were being heard by anyone else, and Human Rights Watch was unable to assess the extent to which the detainees could speak freely and candidly.
Human Rights Watch was permitted to briefly view the cells that Sanussi, al-Mahmoudi, and Dorda were held in at Al-Hadba facility on January 23. In Zintan, Human Rights Watch met with Gaddafi at the office of the Zintan militia guard in charge of his detention, but was not permitted to see the place where he is being held or verify the conditions of his detention.
All detainees were wearing blue prison uniforms during the interviews. Sanussi and Dorda were both kept in solitary confinement in individual, windowless cells of about 3 meters by 4 meters, which include a toilet and shower. Al-Mahmoudi was held in a larger communal cell, which he shared with 14 other inmates, all of whom were resting on mattresses or blankets on the floor during the visit. Human Rights Watch viewed these cells as they were on the day of the visit, but is not in a position to describe the place of detention on any other day.
Two of the detainees expressed concern about the inadequacy of specialized medical care for chronic medical conditions.
Gaddafi did not complain of any health issues, yet was clearly missing a front tooth. He was missing two fingers on his right hand, which appeared to have healed. Sanussi said he previously had cancer, and although he did not have specialist care at the Al-Hadba facility, he still had access to regular medical care. Sanussi complained about the lack of physical activity and said he had been allowed into the yard only four or five times since his arrival at the prison. Al-Mahmoudi said he had several chronic diseases including a heart condition, asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Dorda walked with a cane due to an injury at the time of his arrest and clearly had difficulty moving.
On January 12, Dorda’s lawyer lodged a complaint with the general prosecutor requesting an investigation into the alleged attack against his client at Al-Hadba facility. The complaint states that Dorda told his lawyer on January 2 that an unidentified person had severely beaten him in his cell. The lawyer attested to seeing marks on Dorda’s arms. The lawyer copied the justice minister and the National Council for Civil Liberties with his complaint.
Family members told Human Rights Watch that during a court session on January 15, Dorda complained to the judge about this alleged beating and demanded an investigation. Dorda said that on December 29, he was beaten on his head and body while in his cell by a person “unknown to him and from outside of the prison.” He said the person came into his cell and beat him up and took all of his belongings, including cleaning material, medication, and his crutches. He said the beating on his head made him dizzy.
Any prison system in which detainees are held largely in solitary confinement without regular and private access to their lawyers and their families increases the risk of ill-treatment and abuse, Human Rights Watch said.
The detention authorities should conduct an internal investigation into the alleged incident, Human Rights Watch said. If it is found to be true, the alleged attacker should be removed, if in the prison, and prosecuted. The general prosecutor should take the claim seriously and take all necessary measures against alleged attackers. The justice minister should ensure that only prison staff are present at the detention facility and that anyone in proximity to the detainees is rigorously vetted to avoid any incidents of ill-treatment of any detainee at the facility.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to hold detainees in solitary confinement only when and for as long as strictly necessary, and to respect the inmates’ rights at all times. Under international law, prolonged solitary confinement of a detainee can amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
International Criminal Court Involvement
In addition to the Government Officials’ Case, Gaddafi is facing charges related to alleged breaches of national security arising from a meeting with one of his former temporary defense lawyers at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Melinda Taylor, in June 2012 (the “Zintan Case”). After the meeting, the militia holding Gaddafi detained her and three other ICC staff members and held them for approximately a month, despite Libya’s obligation to respect the officials’ immunity as stipulated in article 48 of the ICC treaty. The Zintan prosecutor contended that Taylor had interfered with state security during her meeting with Gaddafi.
Gaddafi is also wanted by the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in trying to suppress the 2011 uprising. Libya has failed to turn Gaddafi over to the ICC, despite an outstanding obligation to surrender him to the court. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970, which referred the situation in Libya to the ICC, requires the Libyan authorities to cooperate fully with the court, a binding requirement under the UN Charter, even though Libya is not a party to the treaty that established the court.
Libya had filed a legal bid at the ICC on May 1, 2012 to prosecute Gaddafi domestically and was initially told it could postpone surrendering him to the ICC until the ICC made its decision. On May 31, 2013, the ICC judges rejected Libya’s bid and reminded the Libyan authorities of their obligation to surrender him.
The court held that Libya had not provided enough evidence to demonstrate that it was investigating the same case as the one before the ICC, a requirement under the ICC treaty for such challenges, and that it was unable genuinely to carry out an investigation of Gaddafi. The judges concluded that the Libyan authorities have neither been able to secure legal representation for Gaddafi nor to facilitate his transfer into government custody.
On October 11, 2013, Libya succeeded in a separate bid at the ICC to prosecute Sanussi domestically based on the ICC judges’ decision that the case against Sanussi before the ICC was subject to domestic proceedings and that Libya was able and willing genuinely to carry out proceedings against him.
Both decisions regarding Libya’s bids to prosecute Gaddafi and Sanussi domestically are under appeal at the ICC.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged the Libyan authorities to cooperate with the ICC and respect the court’s rulings.
Libya’s current security climate is highly volatile and will negatively impact any judicial proceedings unless the government steps up security for judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and witnesses involved in these cases, Human Rights Watch said.
On February 8, 2014, Libya’s former general prosecutor, Abdelaziz al-Hasadi, was assassinated by unknown assailants in the eastern city of Derna. At least four judges and prosecutors were among the dozens of victims of seemingly politically motivated assassinations in 2013 by unidentified assailants. Unidentified assailants also attacked courthouses in various regions. Human Rights Watch has interviewed judges, lawyers, and prosecutors who complained of physical attacks, intimidation, and threats against them.
“The ICC judges recognized that Sanussi was not provided any legal representation for the proceedings against him, and yet accepted Libya’s claim that this would soon be resolved,” Hourysaid. “Four months after the ICC’s decision and despite Libya’s assertions, Sanussi still has no access to a lawyer.”
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi:Libyan anti-Gaddafi militias apprehended Gaddafi on November 19, 2011, in Ubari, southern Libya. The Abu Baker al-Siddiq Brigade, anti-Gaddafi fighters from Zintan, moved him to Zintan the same day, holding him there ever since though Libya is currently under an obligation to surrender him to the ICC. Gaddafi did not appear at any of the pretrial sessions in the Government Officials Case as the Zintan militia refused to comply with the general prosecutor’s summons to transfer Gaddafi to Tripoli, for “security reasons.” Gaddafi faces separate criminal charges in the Zintan Case. A Zintan court charged him with alleged breaches of national security.
Abdullah Sanussi: Sanussi told Human Rights Watch he fled Libya and went to Morocco during the uprising, but that Moroccan authorities arrested him and transferred him to Mauritania. Mauritania extradited him to Libya on September 5, 2012. Sanussi said Interpol officers handed him to Libyan authorities at Al-Hadba facility, where he has remained since. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sanussi on June 27, 2011, also on charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 2011 uprising. Libya succeeded in its legal bid at the ICC to prosecute that case domestically, though the decision is currently under appeal. Sanussi is also charged in the Government Officials Case.
Abuzaid Dorda: Anti-Gaddafi forces arrested Dorda at his home in Tripoli on September 11, 2011, and initially detained him in an apartment in Tripoli. After an incident in which he was injured, Libyan authorities moved Dorda to the Metiga airbase in Tripoli, where he spent several months hospitalized, and then moved him to a facility under the authority of the Tripoli Military Council. On January 23, 2012, they transferred him to Al-Hadba facility. Dorda was charged in two separate cases. One of the cases, No. 723/2012, in which Dorda faced six charges, including incitement to kill and to civil war, has been adjourned. He is also charged in the Government Officials Case.
Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi: Al-Mahmoudi fled Libya in September 2011. Tunisian authorities arrested him the same month for allegedly illegally entering the country. Tunisia extradited him to Libya on June 24, 2012, where he was taken to Al-Hadba detention facility. Al-Mahmoudi is facing two separate sets of charges, which include the illicit use of public funds and the Government Officials Case.
On September 19, 2013, the general prosecutor, Abdul Qader Juma Radwan, presented to the pretrial judge his case against 38 former Gaddafi officials and employees, including Gaddafi, Sanussi, Dorda, and al-Mahmoudi, (case 630/2012), over crimes allegedly committed during the 2011 uprising, (the “Government Officials Case”). Over three sessions, the first on September 19, and the third and last one on October 24, the pretrial chamber judge of the Tripoli Appeals Court charged 37 of the 38 and referred the case to a criminal court for trial. The date has yet to be announced.
The prosecutor brought numerous charges against the defendants for crimes allegedly committed from February 15, 2011, the start of the uprising against Gaddafi, onward. Human Rights Watch was able to review a copy of the charges, which include: “financially supporting pro-Gaddafi brigades;” “providing weapons and ammunition;” “recruiting and equipping mercenaries and granting some of them the Libyan citizenship;” “creating armed tribal groups and providing them weapons and logistical support;” “preparing car bombs;” “preparing plans to bomb prisons holding opposition members;” “carrying out aerial attacks on civilian targets, including with land mines;” “creating an electronic army to incite killings;” “distributing drugs to the army and volunteers [fighters with Gaddafi forces];” “appropriating citizens’ and opposition member’s properties;” “inciting arbitrary shelling on cities that rose against the regime;” “destroying fuel station in Benghazi;” “cutting water and power supplies from cities that rose against the regime (Misrata, Zawiya, Zintan);” “cutting fuel supplies to the eastern region;” “creating a group to destroy the booster station at the Sidra plant and killing guards there;” “planning and deciding to kill demonstrators in Tripoli;” “creating killing squads, bombing squads and divisions;” “committing acts that aim to provoke civil war;”“inciting and agreeing to acts of rape and sexual intercourse by force as a systematic tool to defeat the revolution;” “inciting and agreeing to detain and imprison thousands of oppositionists;” “squandering public funds;” “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab People by calling them rats, traitors;” and “prohibiting others of practicing politics by force.” Not all of the charges apply to all defendants.
The general prosecutor invoked several articles of the Libyan Penal Code, including several articles that stipulate the death penalty, such as article 202 (on civil war), article 203 (on attacks against the legitimate authorities) and article 211 (on creation of gangs). The prosecutor has also invoked other laws including Law 6/1423 (on punishment according to Islam “Qassass”); Law 19/2010 (on illegal migration); and law 2/1979 (on economic crimes).
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was not at any of the pretrial sessions, so he was not there when the judge charged him and the other 36 defendants with serious crimes on October 24. Sanussi and al-Mahmoudi were present for at least one of the sessions. Dorda told Human Rights Watch he was at the first two sessions but not the last, even though he is detained in the same facility where the session was held. He said: “I was here, but no one came to fetch me for the session.”
Dorda and al-Mahmoudi face additional charges, unrelated to this case. Dorda has faced six charges, including incitement to kill and to civil war (no. 723/2012). That trial has been adjourned. Al-Mahmoudi faced a separate set of charges involving the alleged illicit use of public funds. That trial also has been adjourned. One of the lawyers representing Dorda said he expected both cases to be merged with the Government Officials Case.
All four uniformly said they have not had the chance to review evidence or witness statements against them.
One lawyer for the detainees said the pretrial chamber convened three times, the last session only to pronounce the charges – not enough time for the lawyers to prepare their defense. He said several of the defendants’ lawyers asked the judge to be heard, but were refused. He said neither defense lawyers nor the judge summoned a single witness, and lawyers’ requests to review court documents for authenticity, content, and contradictions were denied. He also questioned the ability of the judge to read 70,000 pages of evidence and statements and 4,000 pages of testimonies submitted by the prosecution in the span of a few weeks.
Each of the four men described to Human Rights Watch numerous interrogations in detention by multiple parties, including government officials, prosecutors, other people in civilian clothing, and members of armed groups. Al-Mahmoudi said the General Prosecutor’s Office started to interrogate him upon his arrival in Libya on June 24, 2012.
None of the detainees had access to legal counsel during the various interrogation sessions, they said. In many cases, the interrogators did not reveal their identities, the men said. They believed some of the interrogators were private citizens who had somehow obtained access to interrogate them. Dorda said since he arrived at Al-Hadba, the general prosecutor’s staff had interrogated him twice. He said he was blindfolded during his first interrogation session at Al-Hadba and did not know who interrogated him.
“Sometimes ordinary people have come in and confronted me with questions and allegations,” Sanussi said. “There have been inquiries by people other than the prosecutor’s office,” al-Mahmoudi said.
Gaddafi told Human Rights Watch that various interrogators coerced him into confessing to murders, rapes, and selling drugs during the 2011 uprising. He said interrogators were mostly prosecutors who told him they were “under orders” to bring charges against him, but also included former (anti-Gaddafi) fighters, individuals he did not know and members of the “military.” He said he has signed every interrogation statement and confession put before him by prosecutors.
“The investigators kept on saying to me, ‘Confess that you’re corrupt, confess that you’re a killer, and then ask for mercy,’” Gaddafi said. “So I signed every confession they [investigators] put in front of me. It’s silly.”
The other three said they only signed interrogation reports. Sanussi said that during the pretrial sessions, he asked the judge to review testimony against him, but was refused. Dorda said he signed written reports presented to him after each interrogation session, yet was not able to review them for accuracy. He said he was interrogated during lengthy sessions, four times in all, two of them at Al-Hadba.
He said that interrogations by “people” from the National Transitional Council, Libya’s governing body during the 2011 uprising, started while he was recovering from an injury in Mitiga hospital in Tripoli, soon after his arrest. Dorda said he knew the prosecution interrogated other people in relation to his case, in Misrata and the Nafussa mountains, yet these investigations were “put on the side and ignored.”
Access to Legal Counsel
Both al-Mahmoudi and Dorda told Human Rights Watch they have lawyers to represent them in the procedures against them. Al-Mahmoudi said he had asked for a lawyer as soon as he arrived in Libya, after being extradited from Tunisia on June 24, 2012. He said he had a lawyer to represent him at this stage, but that it took a substantial time for him to get a lawyer of his choosing. He also said his lawyer has not been able to view documents, crucial to prepare for his defense, which al-Mahmoudi had kept at his home and his office prior to his arrest. Al-Mahmoudi said he now has a team of three lawyers in Libya appointed by his family. He said he was able to meet with one of his lawyers at the prison, but not privately.
Dorda also said his family appointed a lawyer, with whom he has been able to meet at the prison, but never privately. A guard was always in the room, making it impossible to discuss sensitive issues pertaining to his defense, he said. Dorda said his lawyer was unable to attend any of the three pretrial sessions due to threats and intimidation by crowds outside of the court.
Gaddafi and Sanussi told Human Rights Watch that they have not had access to legal counsel of their choosing since their arrest. Sanussi told Human Rights Watch he had been asking for a lawyer since his arrival in Libya: “I was not permitted to meet a lawyer. I asked for a lawyer from the first day [I arrived in Libya]. I attended the pretrial sessions [case 630/2012] without a lawyer.” Gaddafi dismissed a claim made to Human Rights Watch on January 23 in Zintan by al-Ajmi al-Atiri, the head of the guard force for Gaddafi and commander of the militia holding him, that the court had appointed two lawyers to represent him in the Zintan Case. He said he did not choose these lawyers, had not spoken with them about the case and only saw them at the court sessions. He also said he had no access to legal counsel of his choosing for charges levied against him by the ICC.
“I do not have a lawyer,” Gaddafi said. “I did not choose them [two court-appointed lawyers in Zintan]; I do not know them. My God is my lawyer.”
All four men said they had virtually no access to a judge to review the claims brought against them.
A lawyer representing one of the 37 defendants in the Officials Case, who wished to remain anonymous, told Human Rights Watch that on September 19, the first pretrial hearing date, he went to the court but turned back without entering the court complex after angry crowds and families of victims threatened him and called him a traitor for representing a former Gaddafi official. He did not attend the other two pretrial sessions either. He said lawyers were intimidated and not able to meet with clients ahead of time to prepare a proper defense.
The ICCPR contains in article 14 the most basic affirmation of fair trial rights. It says that anyone facing a criminal charge is entitled to the following minimum guarantees:
(a) To be informed promptly and in detail in a language he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him;
(b) To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing;
(c) To be tried without undue delay;
(d) To be present at the trial and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing; to be informed, if he does not have legal assistance, of this right; and to have legal assistance assigned to him, in any case where the interests of justice so require, and without payment by him in any such case if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it;
(e) To examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
[…] (g) Not to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.
Three of the four detainees are held in solitary confinement.
Gaddafi told Human Rights Watch he was isolated from the outside world and received no visitors. Although Human Rights Watch did not visit his place of detention and cannot confirm the conditions, Gaddafi described it as adequate. He said he had access to a television with satellite stations and could obtain religious books if he asked the authorities.
All three detainees at Al-Hadba said they had no access to television, news, radio, or newspapers. Human Rights Watch visited Sanussi’s cell. He has been in solitary confinement, without access to other detainees, since his transfer to Libya in September 2012, except for sharing his cell with another former Gaddafi official for two to three days, and on another occasion with an inmate he did not know who had special needs. Sanussi said he was required to care for the detainee, including helping him with his basic needs and use of the toilet during the duration of his stay, for about a month.
Dorda told Human Rights Watch that prison authorities had kept him in solitary confinement for the past five months. Prior to that, he was in a communal cell with former ministers and officials of the Gaddafi government – he did not specify how many. Al-Mahmoudi shares a communal cell with 14 other inmates, including former ministers and officials of the Gaddafi government of varying ranks.
Detention authorities should ensure that detainees have access to the outside world by providing newspapers and TV or radio access, as per the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and ensure that detainees can interact with other detainees, even if only during periods outside their cells.
Isolation is deepened by additional restrictions. For example, Sanussi, Dorda and al-Mahmoudi said they had no access to books, newspapers, television, or radio with the exception of religious books. Gaddafi said he had access to a television with a variety of channels, but no newspapers or books, with the exception of religious books.
International norms underscore that solitary confinement, whether imposed for punitive or preventive reasons, is an extreme measure that requires close monitoring because it can have adverse effects on the person’s physical and mental well-being. While international human rights law does not prohibit solitary confinement in any and all circumstances, prolonged solitary confinement can be inconsistent with respect for inmates’ humanity. It can also violate the prohibition on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and, depending on the specific circumstances, may even amount to torture. The Committee on Human Rights states in its General Comment 20 that “prolonged solitary confinement of the detained or imprisoned person may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
International treaty bodies and human rights experts – including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, and both the current and former UN special rapporteurs on torture – have concluded that depending on the specific conditions, the duration, and the prisoners on whom it is imposed, solitary confinement may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment that violates human rights.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) noted, “It is generally acknowledged that all forms of solitary confinement without appropriate mental and physical stimulation are likely, in the long-term, to have damaging effects resulting in deterioration of mental faculties and social abilities.”
The UN Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners states that, “Efforts addressed to the abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to the restriction of its use, should be undertaken and encouraged.”
Al-Hadba Corrections Facility in Tripoli is formally under the authority of the Justice Ministry and formally administered by the judicial police. Human Rights Watch had only limited access to the facility. The prison is within a base that is heavily fortified, including numerous pick-up trucks mounted with heavy weapons and tanks.
The deputy defense minister, Khalid al Sharif, keeps an office at the facility. The prison complex also includes a courtroom, which is being used to hold sessions for former Gaddafi officials, including the trials of Dorda and al-Mahmoudi.
Human Rights Watch met with Gaddafi at a base run by the Abu Baker al-Siddiq Brigade of Zintan, the guard force detaining Gaddafi at a separate undisclosed location. A plaque at the main entrance states that it operates under the command of the Libyan National Army. Human Rights Watch also met with al-Ajmi al-Atiri, head of the guard force. During the visit, there was no sign of any member of the judicial police or anyone from the Justice Ministry.
Al-Atiri told Human Rights Watch his group had refused a request from the government on October 24 to transfer Gaddafi to Tripoli to attend a court session for the Officials Case, fearing for the safety of his own men and Gaddafi due to the volatile security situation on the main road between Tripoli and Zintan. There were frequent clashes on the western coastal road between Tripoli and the Nafussa mountains throughout 2013, with roadblocks and exchanges of gunfire.
He also said the Brigade ignored a transfer order for the first pretrial session on September 19 because the dates coincided with the Zintan Case.
As noted above, in their May 2013 decision rejecting Libya’s bid to try Gaddafi domestically, the ICC judges concluded that the Libyan authorities have neither been able to secure legal representation for Gaddafi nor to facilitate his transfer into government custody.
On January 23, Human Rights Watch conducted separate visits of 15 to 20 minutes each with Sanussi, Dorda and al-Mahmoudi in an administrative office at Al-Hadba prison. A guard interrupted each interview before the end of the agreed-upon period to say how much time remained. Prison authorities permitted Human Rights Watch to interview all three men privately, with no prison staff or other officials in the room. Human Rights Watch was able to meet very briefly with Saleh Daeiki, the prison director, and to inspect the cells of the three detainees that day, but was not able to conduct a tour of the entire prison.
It was the second visit by Human Rights Watch to Sanussi since his transfer to Libya in September 2012.
Human Rights Watch visited Gaddafi the same day in Zintan. While Human Rights Watch representatives were alone in an office with Gaddafi during the 45-minute interview, the door of the room remained open and guards remained outside the door. No one interrupted the interview. Human Rights Watch met with the brigade commander al-Atiri, who is in charge of the “security” of the detainee.
This was Human Rights Watch’s second visit to Gaddafi; the first visit was on December 18, 2011, a month after his apprehension.
The general prosecutor authorized the visits. The justice minister facilitated the visit to Al-Hadba. The Local Council of Zintan facilitated the visit with Gaddafi.