This month, Saadi Gadhafi, the son of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, was extradited from Niger to Libya to face trial. In an email interview, Hanan Salah, a Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch, explained the progress and failures to date of Libya’s post-Gadhafi judiciary.
WPR: What have been the areas of greatest progress and failure in the process of rebuilding Libya’s post-Gadhafi judiciary?
Hanan Salah: More than two years after the end of the uprising, Libya’s justice system is facing numerous challenges, and the authorities are unable to impose law and order. Amid rampant violence mainly by unaccountable militias, the justice system is paralyzed in many parts of the country—with suspended courts and frozen prosecutions in Benghazi and Derna in eastern Libya. Militias threaten and attack judges, prosecutors, lawyers and witnesses.
Thousands of people remain arbitrarily detained without basic due process protections—they have no access to counsel and have not been brought before a judge or charged. The Justice Ministry says it is holding more than 6,000 people. Prosecution has begun for about half, with 10 percent of them convicted and sentenced. The rest are in pretrial detention.
The Interior and Defense Ministries hold an unknown number of others, and there are no known figures for people held outside of government custody, by militias. Despite some progress, the Justice Ministry was not able to meet the latest deadline, of March 2 under the Dec. 2 Transitional Justice Law, to transfer all detainees to government custody, charge or release them.
For many cases that reach the courts, there are serious failings in basic fair trial standards. There have been allegations of forced confessions and lack of unfettered access to legal counsel and court documents.
WPR: How are the judicial system’s problems affecting insecurity, and vice versa?
Salah: Libya’s security landscape is volatile and fragmented, and militias are dominant in many parts of the country. Security for ordinary civilians and officials, including judges, has deteriorated steadily. The justice system appears at risk of collapse. At least seven judges and prosecutors have been assassinated in the past two years, and numerous others have fled after threats and harassment, many from Benghazi and Derna to elsewhere in Libya.
The mostly unidentified assailants of Libya’s judicial figures operate with near impunity. Most recently, on Feb. 8, Abdelaziz al-Hassadi, Libya’s first general prosecutor in the post-Gadhafi government, was assassinated in Derna, his hometown. As far as we have been able to determine, no one has been arrested.
Due to this security vacuum, courts and prosecutors in Derna, which is not under government control, have stopped working for months. Courts and prosecutors in Benghazi recently suspended all work after the assassination of yet another judge there.
WPR: What is the role for the international community in supporting the Libyan judiciary?
Salah: The international community, especially countries that supported the NATO intervention, can play a key role in assisting the justice system. Libya’s friends should be giving urgent assistance to ensure that judicial police, who protect Justice Ministry prisons and courts and judicial personnel, are trained adequately and can operate. All countries could also provide trained personnel to help Libya end mass arbitrary detention, by reviewing cases of the thousands of people detained without charge.
The international community should act through international mechanisms, such as the U.N. Human Rights Council, to press for the public documentation of abuses and urge the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report publicly to the council about the human rights situation in Libya.