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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Libya

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Libya, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.



The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is a dictatorship ruled by Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi (the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution") who is aided by extragovernmental Revolutionary Committees and a Comrades Organization. Libya's governing principles are expressed in Mr. Qadhafi's "Green Book." Borrowing from Islamic and pan-Arab ideas, Mr. Qadhafi has created a political system that purports to establish a "third way" superior to capitalism and communism. He uses assassination and intimidation to control his enemies abroad and summary judicial proceedings to suppress opposition at home. The Government exercises tight control over ethnic minorities, such as Berbers, and continues to repress banned Islamic groups.

Libya maintains an extensive security apparatus, consisting of several elite military units, including Mr. Qadhafi's personal bodyguards, as well as the local Revolutionary Committees and People's Committees. The result is a multilayered, pervasive surveillance system which monitors and controls the activities of individuals.

In August Mr. Qadhafi proposed a program to seize private wealth, deeming all private assets above a nominal amount to be the fruits of exploitation or corruption. The Government dominates the economy through complete control of the country's oil resources, the principal source of foreign exchange. It uses part of the oil income for development, but much income has been lost to waste and corruption.

The human rights situation worsened in 1994 as the security service continued a crackdown after a coup plot was foiled in October 1993. Most rights remain tightly restricted. There are no effective right to freedom of speech, including expression of views opposing those of the Government, to peaceful association or assembly, to formation of trade unions, or to strike. Citizens do not have the right to change their government, nor the right to a fair public trial, to be represented by legal counsel, to be secure in their homes or persons, or to own private property.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Foreign observers report at least 17 persons were hanged in early 1994 after they were found guilty in summary trials for their roles in a reported attempt coup d'etat in October 1993. Thousands of persons were arrested in the post-October crackdown. Dozens of those reportedly died in detention.

A large number of offenses, including political offenses and "economic crimes," are punishable by death. Law No. 71 of 1972 stipulates the death penalty for any person associated with a group opposed to the principles of the revolution. Despite his longstanding stated intention, Mr. Qadhafi has not acted to abolish the death penalty for this offense. To the contrary, a 1991 law stipulates the death penalty for persons "whose lives constitute a threat or cause depravity to society."

b. Disappearance

Mansur Kikhya, a former Libyan Foreign Minister under Mr. Qadhafi and a prominent exiled dissident, disappeared from Cairo in December 1993. The Egyptian Government has been unable to account for Kikhya's disappearance. Many observers, citing Libya's long history of antidissident campaigns and Mr. Qadhafi's public calls in late 1993 for violence against regime critics abroad, believe that Libyan agents abducted Kikhya. Kikhya's whereabouts are still unknown.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although Libya is a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, security personnel reportedly torture prisoners during interrogations or for punishment. Government agents periodically detain and reportedly torture foreign workers, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa. Torture reports are difficult to corroborate because many prisoners are held incommunicado.

Methods of torture reportedly include: chaining to a wall for hours, clubbing, electric shock, the application of corkscrews in the back and lemon juice in open wounds, breaking fingers and allowing the joints to heal without medical care, suffocation by plastic bags, deprivation of food and water, and beatings on the soles of the feet. Libyan law calls for fines against any official using excessive force, but there are no known cases of prosecution for torture or abuse. In 1994 Mr. Qadhafi again publicly called for a stricter application of Islamic law, or Shari'a. He criticized the leniency of judicial punishments and recommended legislation to authorize amputation for thievery and public whipping for adulterers. In February the Government adopted laws mandating Koranic punishments, but at year's end there was no evidence these laws had been enforced.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

By law the Government may hold detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods. It also holds many political prisoners incommunicado in unofficial detention centers, controlled by members of the Revolutionary Committees. The Government is believed to hold in detention between 400 to 500 political prisoners. Many have been held for long periods without charge. Thousands of other detainees may have been held for periods too brief (3 to 4 months) to permit confirmation by outside observers.

While undergoing interrogation, sometimes for as long as several months, prisoners do not have access to legal counsel. There have been credible reports that the Government has arbitrarily forced some foreign workers into military training and military service on behalf of Libya or coerced them into subversive activities against their own countries.

The Government does not impose exile as a form of punishment; to the contrary, Mr. Qadhafi seeks to pressure Libyans working or studying abroad to return to Libya. However, the regime arbitrarily expels noncitizens (see Section 6.e.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Most civilians are tried in regular courts, but their cases may be referred to less formal "people's courts" or to military or revolutionary courts, depending on the recommendation of the security forces. Some trials are held in secret or even in the absence of the accused. In other cases, the security forces have the power to judge persons guilty without trial, particularly those deemed "traitors to the people" (i.e., opponents of Mr. Qadhafi's ideology or reign).

Persons accused of political offenses have been tried in secret before ad hoc revolutionary courts rather than in regular civilian courts. Defendants in such cases do not have the right to choose their own counsel.

A 1981 law prohibits the private practice of law and stipulates that all attorneys must work as employees of the Secretariat of Justice. The accused are not accorded due process under the law, despite the regime's claims of adherence to international principles of justice.

Mr. Qadhafi has used public speeches to incite local cadres to take extrajudicial action against suspected regime opponents. In 1994 a regime-inspired mob destroyed the home of a person mistaken as a regime opponent who was living abroad. Mr. Qadhafi claimed that his personal intervention prevented the mob from killing the family living in the house. Later the actual family members of the opponent--acting under regime-inspired duress--described him as "insane" and called for his arrest if he returned to Libya.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government does not respect the right to privacy. Security agencies often disregard the legal requirement to obtain warrants before entering a private home. They also routinely monitor telephone calls.

The security agencies and the Revolutionary Committees oversee an extensive informant network. Libyan exiles report that mere family ties to suspected regime opponents may result in government harassment and detention. The Government may seize and destroy property belonging to the "enemies of the people" or those who "cooperate" with foreign powers. In early 1994, citizens reported that Mr. Qadhafi warned that members of the extended family of any regime opponent risk the death penalty.

In August Mr. Qadhafi proposed a program to seize private wealth, deeming all private assets above a nominal amount to be the fruits of exploitation or corruption. He encouraged local cadres to investigate and report any citizen retaining "excessive" private assets after the expiration of a grace period, during which citizens could turn over such assets to the Government.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The authorities tolerate some difference of opinion in People's Committee meetings and at the General People's Congress but in general severely limit freedom of speech. This is especially true with regard to criticism of Mr. Qadhafi or his regime. Infrequent media criticism of regime members or policies is interpreted as orchestrated attempts to test public opinion or as efforts to weaken the popular support of Mr. Qadhafi's potential challengers within the Government.

The regime restricts freedom of speech by prohibiting all political activities not officially approved; enacting laws so vague that many forms of speech or expression may be interpreted by the regime as illegal; and by operating a pervasive system of informants that creates an atmosphere of mistrust at all levels of society.

The State owns and controls the media. There is a state-run daily newspaper, Al-Shams, with a circulation of 40,000. The Revolutionary Committees publish several smaller newspapers. The official news agency, JANA, is the designated conduit for official views. The regime does not permit the publication of opinions contrary to government policy. Such foreign publications as Newsweek, Time, the International Herald Tribune, Express, and Jeune Afrique are available, but authorities routinely censor them and can prohibit them from entry onto the market.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Public assembly is permitted only with regime approval and in support of the regime's positions. The Government limits the right of association; it grants such a right only to institutions affiliated with the regime. According to Law No. 71 of 1972, political activity found by the authorities to be treasonous is punishable by death. An offense may include any activity that is "opposed ... to the principles of the Revolution." Independent trade unions and professional associations do not exist. The regime regards such structures as unacceptable "intermediaries between the revolution and the working forces."Despite these restrictions, citizens staged several informal protests in 1994 to complain about the deteriorating economy and express dissatisfaction with the Government. At least one large demonstration took place in Bani Walid, the location of the regime's preemptive strikes against the October 1993 coup attempt.

c. Freedom of Religion

Libya is overwhelmingly Muslim. In an apparent effort to eliminate all alternative power bases, the regime has banned the once powerful Sanusiyya Islamic sect. In its place, Mr. Qadhafi established the Islamic Call Society (ICS), which is the outlet for state-sanctioned religion as well as a tool for exporting the Libyan revolution abroad. In 1992 the Government announced that the ICS would be disbanded; however, its Director still conducts activities, suggesting that the organization remains operational. Islamic groups at variance with the state-approved teaching of Islam are banned.

In 1994 security forces continued to arrest suspected members and sympathizers of banned Islamic groups and to monitor activities at mosques. Some practicing Muslims have shaved their beards to avoid harassment from security services. Mr. Qadhafi has publicly denounced Libyan "mujaheddin" (generally, conservative Islamists who fought with the Afghan resistance movement against Soviet forces) as threats to the regime. Most political detainees are reportedly associated with banned Islamic groups.

Members of some minority religions are allowed to conduct services. Services in Christian churches are attended by the foreign community. A resident Catholic bishop, aided by a small number of priests, operates two churches.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

With the exception of security areas, the Government usually does not restrict the internal movement of Libyan citizens. It requires exit permits for travel abroad. Following the failed October 1993 coup plot, the Government imposed additional exit requirements, including authorization from certain ministries and limits on access to hard currency. Women must have their husbands' permission for travel abroad. Authorities routinely seize the passports of Americans, as well as those of some other nationals, married to Libyan citizens upon entry into Libya.

In 1991 Libya and Egypt agreed to allow the unrestricted travel of their nationals across their mutual border, and thousands of Libyans reportedly go back and forth regularly. This travel, as well as travel from Libya to Tunisia, continued at a high level in 1994, partly as a result of the international embargo on airline service to Libya. In response to antiregime activity, the Government tightened border controls temporarily in late 1993 and again in mid-1994. The Government increased restrictions on travel across the Tunisia-Libya border in late 1994, possibly in reaction to improving Tunisian relations with Israel. In late 1993, the Egyptian media reported that Mr. Qadhafi turned over three expatriate Egyptian Islamists to the Egyptian security services.

The Revolutionary Committees maintain surveillance of some citizens when they are abroad. The right of return is more nearly an obligation; the regime often calls on students, many of whom receive a government subsidy, and others working abroad to return to Libya on little or no notice. Students studying abroad are interrogated upon their return. Some citizens, including exiled opposition figures, refuse to return.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The people of Libya do not have the right to change their government. Major government decisions are controlled by Mr. Qadhafi, his close associates, and committees acting in his name. Mr. Qadhafi appoints military officers and official functionaries down to junior levels. Corruption and favoritism, partially based on tribal origin, are major problems, adversely affecting government efficiency.

The Government prohibits political parties and tribal or local groupings. Participation in elections is mandatory, and all candidates are approved by the Revolutionary Committees. Candidates may not be merchants, contractors, tribal advocates, officials of the pre-1969 government, or persons who have been "attacked" by the revolution.

In theory, political participation is guaranteed by the grassroots People's Committees, which send representatives annually to the national General People's Congress (GPC). In practice, the GPC is a rubber stamp which approves all recommendations made by Mr. Qadhafi.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The regime prohibits the establishment of independent human rights organizations. The Government created the Libyan Arab Human Rights Committee in May 1989. However, there are no reports of any activities by the Committee.

The regime does not respond substantively to appeals from Amnesty International (AI) on behalf of detainees. In 1994 the regime described AI as a tool of Western interests and dismissed its work as neocolonialist. AI representatives last visited Libya in 1988.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


Both law and traditional Islamic attitudes restrict women's rights. However, Mr. Qadhafi has led efforts to improve the status of women and expand their access to educational and employment opportunities. Women may serve in the military.

No information is available on the extent to which violence against women is a problem in Libya.


The Government has subsidized education and medical care, improving the welfare of children in the past 25 years. However, declining revenues and general economic mismanagement have led to cutbacks, particularly in medical services. Some tribes located in remote areas still practice female genital mutilation, which is usually performed on young girls.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Arabic-speaking Muslims of mixed Arab and Berber ancestry make up 97 percent of the population. The principal non-Arab minorities are Berbers and blacks. There are frequent allegations of discrimination based on tribal status, particularly against Berbers in the interior and Tuaregs in the south. In the past, Mr. Qadhafi sought unsuccessfully to ensure that Berbers married only non-Berbers, presumably in an effort to erode their tribal identity.

See Section 6.e. on the expulsion since 1990 of thousands of foreign workers, principally black Africans, under circumstances that have appeared discriminatory.

People with Disabilities

No information is available on the Government's efforts to assist people with disabilities.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers do not have the right to establish or join unions of their own choosing. Workers may join the sole official trade union organization, the National Trade Unions' Federation, which was created in 1972. The Federation is administered by the People's Committee system. The Government prohibits foreign workers from joining unions.

The law does not guarantee the right to strike. There have been no reports of strikes by Libyan workers in years. In a June 1992 speech, Mr. Qadhafi affirmed that workers have the right to strike but added that strikes do not occur because the workers control their enterprises.

The official trade union organization plays an active role in the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions and the Organization of African Trade Union Unity. It exploits international trade union contacts to engage in propaganda efforts on behalf of the regime. The Arab Maghreb Trade Union Federation suspended the membership of Libya's trade union organization in 1993. The suspension followed reports that Mr. Qadhafi had replaced all union leaders, in some cases with loyal followers without union experience.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining does not exist in any meaningful sense because the labor law requires that the Government must approve all agreements.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

In a 1992 report, the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts stated that "persons expressing certain political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social, or economic system may be punished with penalties of obligation to perform labor." That statement accurately describes the situation in 1994. The same report noted that public employees may be sentenced to compulsory labor " a punishment for breaches of labor discipline or for participation in strikes even in services whose interruption would not endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or part of the population." The Government has informed the ILO that legislation has abolished these provisions, but it has not submitted any corroborating evidence to the ILO.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment of children is 18. Education is compulsory to age 15.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The work force is about l,120,000 workers, with an additional 1.2 million foreign workers, in a population of 4.4 million. There is a legally mandated minimum wage, which appears inadequate to afford a worker and family a decent standard of living. Wages, particularly in the public sector, are frequently months in arrears. The International Monetary Fund noted that a wage freeze imposed in 1981 remains in effect and has seriously eroded real income.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours. The labor law defines the rights and duties of workers, including matters of compensation, pension rights, minimum rest periods, and working hours. Labor inspectors are assigned to inspect places of work for compliance with occupational health and safety standards. Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, try to maintain standards set by foreign companies.

The labor law does not accord equality of treatment to foreign workers. Foreign workers may reside in Libya only for the duration of their work contracts. They are subject to arbitrary pressures, such as changes in work rules and contracts, and have little option but to accept such changes or to depart the country. Foreign workers who are not under contract enjoy no protection.

In the spring of 1990, the Government expelled thousands of black African workers, claiming they were in Libya illegally. Chadians, Nigerians, Nigeriens, Malians, and Ghanaians were detained for varying lengths of time and returned destitute to their countries. Press reports in several of these countries have carried unsubstantiated accounts of the mistreatment of these workers by Libyan authorities prior to their expulsion. At least 16 black African workers reportedly disappeared, and 1 Malian was reportedly killed. In late 1993, Mr. Qadhafi called for the expulsion of most of the 25,000 Thai workers in Libya, in apparent retaliation for the Thai Government's decision to remove approximately 200 Thai workers from the Tarhunah chemical weapons project. However, the regime took no action against the Thai workers in 1994.

In September Mr. Qadhafi called for the expulsion of Palestinian workers, maintaining that establishment of a Palestinian authority in Gaza and Jericho eliminated Libya's obligation to care for the "homeless." In 1994 the regime did not renew the contracts of some Palestinian workers whose work contacts had expired.

[1]* The United States has no Embassy in Libya. Information on the human rights situation is therefore limited.

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