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XIII. Libya and International Human Rights Law

Libya is party to the seven core international human rights treaties, although not all of their optional protocols:

  • The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination  (ICERD), ratified by Libya in 1969

  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified by Libya in 1976  

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Libya in 1976

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by Libya in 1989

  • The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), ratified by Libya in 1989

  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by Libya in 1993

  • The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW), ratified by Libya in 2004

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.  It 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.

When Libya acceded to CEDAW in 1989, it entered reservations to article 2 (on the right to non-discrimination) and article 16 (c) and (d) (on non-discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family relations), stating that that the convention must be implemented in accordance with shari`a (Islamic law).  In July 1995, Libya submitted a new general reservation that the treaty’s implementation cannot conflict with personal status laws derived from shari`a.  Such reservations undermine the object and purpose of the treaty and have been widely criticized by other governments, such as Denmark, Finland, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.  In June 2004, Libya signed the first Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which allows the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to receive and consider complaints from individuals or group. 

Key human rights treaties not signed by Libya include the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees187 and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.188

The Libyan government has repeatedly claimed that the international treaties it has signed take precedence over Libyan law (with the exception of Libyan law that stems from shari`a, as described with CEDAW above).  According to the government, every international treaty signed by Libya, ratified by the General People’s Congress and published in the Official Gazette, “acquires binding force and takes legal precedence over the provisions of domestic legislation.”  In the event of conflict between the provisions of an international treaty to which Libya is a party and domestic legislation, “the provisions of the international treaty prevail over those of domestic legislation.”189

Contradictions between Libyan and international law continue to exist, particularly regarding freedom of expression and association, and, in those cases, Libyan law has prevailed.  Libyan lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch knew of no cases in which judges cited international law when making a decision.  According to some judges and prosecutors, referencing international law is unnecessary because Libya’s national legislation reflect all international obligations.190   As demonstrated above, however, many provisions of Libyan law continue to be inconsistent with international human rights standards.

[187] Libyan officials repeatedly claimed that Libya has only migrants, legal and illegal, and not refugees.  A forthcoming Human Rights Watch report will address the country’s treatment of migrants and refugees.

[188] An official at the General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation said Libya was against the International Criminal Court because the “conditions are not entirely free.”  He pointed to the bi-lateral agreements the United States has signed with various countries to protect U.S. soldiers from prosecution.  (Human Rights Watch interview with Ramadan Irhiam, Director, General Department of International Organizations, General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation, Tripoli, May 1, 2005.)

[189] Libyan Arab Jamahiriya report to the Committee Against Torture, CAT/C/44/Add.3, January 28, 1999.  The report is available at, accessed September 11, 2005.  See also Libyan Arab Jamahiriya report to the Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/102/Add.1, October 15, 1997, available at, accessed September 11, 2005.

[190] Human Rights Watch interview with Benghazi justice officials, Benghazi, April 24, 2005.

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