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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Libya

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Libya, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
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 Colonel 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 Qadhafi's "Green Book." Borrowing from Islamic and pan-Arab ideas, 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 the opposition abroad and summary judicial proceedings to suppress it 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 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.

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, corruption, and attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The human rights situation is poor. Citizens do not have the ability to change their government. Security forces arbitrarily detain and torture prisoners during interrogations or for punishment. The Government restricts the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and basic worker rights. Citizens do not have 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.

In September the Government carried out mass arrests after violent clashes between Islamic activists and security forces in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, left at least 30 people dead. The violence was sparked when the Government tried to arrest several Islamic leaders. Afterward, Qadhafi publicly called for violence against opponents of his regime. Also in September, the regime expelled hundreds of Palestinian residents to signal its displeasure at the signing of a peace accord between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. The regime also expelled thousands of other foreign workers from Egypt, Sudan, and Chad because of heightened government concern over alleged ties between these workers and Islamic extremist groups. Traditional attitudes continue to restrict women's rights. Female genital mutilation is still practiced in remote tribal areas.

Libyan continues to be subject to economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council in connection with the bombings of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland in 1988 and the bombing of UTA flight 772 over Chad in 1989. These sanctions require that Libya fulfill the following conditions: ensure the appearance of those charged; cooperate with U.S., British, and French investigations into the Pan Am and UTA bombings; compensate the victims of Pan Am 103; and renounce terrorism and support for terrorism.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In September Islamist groups in Benghazi and Tobruk attacked police stations and road checkpoints after security forces attempted to arrest several Islamist leaders. At least 30 people were killed in the unrest. After the disturbances were quelled, Qadhafi told a crowd of supporters that the Government would kill anyone who betrayed the country. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, Qadhafi said that "we will corner the traitors here, and we will trample them underfoot, and we will physically liquidate them. With their blood, we will wash off the disgrace they have left on our soil."

In November a prominent dissident, Ali Mehmed Abuzeid, was found stabbed to death in his grocery store in London, where he was living in exile. British police have not made any arrests, but family members maintain that Abuzeid was killed by Libyan agents.

In 1995 the Government took no steps to fulfill U.N. Security Council resolutions concerning the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and UTA flight 722 over Chad in 1989. Two Libyan agents, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, have been accused in the Pan Am bombing. The U.N. Security Council has imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions on Libya (see above).

A large number of offenses, including political offenses and "economic crimes," are punishable by death. Law No. 71 of 1972 mandates the death penalty for any person associated with a group opposed to the principles of the revolution. Despite his longstanding stated intention, Qadhafi has not acted to abolish the death penalty for this offense.

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

Although Libya is a party to the U.N. 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. The law calls for fines against any official using excessive force, but there are no known cases of prosecution for torture or abuse.

In November the Chadian Human Rights League issued a statement condemning "acts of extortion, torture, and arbitrary arrests" against Chadians living in Libya. Libya had announced a month earlier that it intended to expel 1 million Africans from its territory, among them an estimated 300,000 Chadians (see Section 6.e.). The League also denounced the "painful health conditions" of the hundreds of expelled Chadians who were repatriated to Chad that month. According to the League's statement, the Chadians were "arrested, tortured, stripped of their property, and jailed before their expulsion."

There is insufficient information to make a determination on prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

By law the Government may hold detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods. It holds many political detainees incommunicado in unofficial detention centers controlled by members of the Revolutionary Committees. There are an estimated 400 to 500 political detainees. Many have been held for years without charge. Thousands of other detainees may have been held for periods too brief (3 to 4 months) to permit confirmation by outside observers.

In September the Government reportedly arrested hundreds of suspected opponents following clashes in the cities of Benghazi and Tobruk which left an estimated 30 people dead (see Section 1.a.).

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. Qadhafi has publicly denounced Libyan "mujaheddin" (generally, conservative Islamic activists who fought with the Afghan resistance movement against Soviet forces) as threats to the regime.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There are four levels of courts: Summary courts which try petty offenses; the courts of first instance, which try more serious crimes; the courts of appeal; and the Supreme Court, which is the final appellate level. The private practice of law is illegal; all lawyers must be members of the Secretariat of Justice.

Special revolutionary courts were established in 1980 to try political offenses. Such trials are often held in secret or even in the absence of the accused. In other cases, the security forces have the power to pass sentences without trial, especially in cases involving political opposition. In the past, Qadhafi has incited local cadres to take extrajudicial action against suspected opponents.

There is no reliable estimate of political prisoners. Many political detainees are reportedly associated with banned Islamic groups.

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 the past, citizens have reported that Qadhafi has warned members of the extended family of any regime opponent that they too risk the death penalty.

There were no known developments in a government move to seize "excessive" amounts of private wealth. In 1994 Qadhafi had proposed a program to seize all private assets above a nominal amount, describing wealth in excess of such an undetermined nominal amount as the fruits of exploitation or corruption.

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 Qadhafi or his regime. Infrequent criticism of political leaders and policies in the state-controlled media is interpreted as a government attempt to test public opinion, or weaken a government figure who may be a potential challenger to Qadhafi.

The regime restricts freedom of speech in several ways: by prohibiting all political activities not officially approved, by enacting laws so vague that many forms of speech or expression may be interpreted 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. Local 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 may prohibit their 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, members of the Worfala tribe staged several informal protests during the year to protest the regime's decision to carry out the death penalty against tribe members involved in the 1993 coup attempt. The Government responded by arresting hundreds of tribe members, and expelling others from the military and security forces. At year's end, the death sentences were not carried out.

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, Qadhafi established the Islamic Call Society (ICS), which is the outlet for state-approved 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.

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 and limits access to hard currency. A woman must have her husband's permission to travel abroad. Authorities routinely seize the passports of foreigners married to Libyan citizens upon their entry into Libya.

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.

In September the Government expelled hundreds of Palestinian residents to signal its displeasure with the signing of the Interim Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. As a result, dozens of Palestinian families, many of which were longtime residents of Libya, were stranded for weeks in a makeshift camp along the Egyptian border. By year's end, these people had either been accepted by other countries or returned to their homes in Libya.

The Government also expelled thousands of workers from Chad, Sudan, and Egypt (see Section 6.e.).

The Government does not accept asylum seekers.

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

Citizens do not have the right to change their government. Major government decisions are controlled by Qadhafi, his close associates, and committees acting in his name. Political parties are banned. 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.

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 Qadhafi.

Qadhafi established the Revolutionary Committees in 1977. These bodies are composed mostly of Libyan youths who are charged with guarding against political deviation. Some Committees have engaged in show trials of regime opponents; in other cases, they have been implicated with assassinating opponents abroad. The Committees approve all candidates in elections for the GPC.

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. It created the Libyan Arab Human Rights Committee in 1989, but the Committee has not published any known reports.

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


There is little information on the extent of violence against women. In general, the intervention of neighbors and extended family members tends to limit the prevalence and scope of such violence. Abuse within the family is rarely discussed publicly, owing to the value attached to privacy in this traditional society.

Women were granted equal status under law by the Constitutional Proclamation in 1969. Despite this legal provision of equality, many traditional attitudes and practices continue to discriminate against women.

Most observers agree that, with the advent of oil wealth in the 1970's, women have made notable social progress. Oil wealth, urbanization, development plans, education programs, and even the impetus behind Qadhafi's revolutionary government have all contributed to the creation of new employment opportunities for women. In recent years, a growing sense of individualism in some segments of Libyan society, especially among the educated young, has been noted. For example, many educated young couples prefer to set up their own households, rather than move in with their parents, and view polygamy with scorn. Since the 1970's the level of educational differences between men and women has continued to narrow.

In general, the emancipation of women is a generational phenomenon: urban women under the age of 35 tend to have more "modern" attitudes toward life and have discarded the traditional veil; at the same time, older urban women tend to be more reluctant to give up the veil or the traditional attitudes towards family and employment. Moreover, a significant proportion of rural women still do not attend school and tend to instill such traditional beliefs as women's subservient role in society to their young.

Employment gains by women also tend to be inhibited by lingering traditional restrictions which discourage women from playing an active role in the workplace, and by the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalist values. Some observers have noted that even educated women tend to lack self-confidence and social awareness and seek only a limited degree of occupational and social participation with men.

The ambiguous position of women is illustrated by Qadhafi's own attitudes and utterances. His development plans have made an effort to include women in the modern workforce, yet he has criticized women's emancipation in the West, including their employment gains.


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 (FGM) on young girls, a procedure widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to a girl's physical and psychological health.

People with Disabilities

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Arabic-speaking Muslims of mixed Arab and Berber ancestry comprise 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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers do not have the right to establish or join unions of their own choosing. They 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 in years. In a 1992 speech, 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

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 its 1995 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. 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.

There have been credible reports that the Government has arbitrarily forced some foreign workers into involuntary military service or has coerced them into performing subversive activities against their own countries.

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 1.1 million 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. A wage freeze imposed in 1981 remains in effect and has seriously eroded real income. The average monthly wage is $700 (about 250 dinars.)

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, and may not send more than half of their earnings to their families in their home countries. 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.

The Government uses the threat of expulsion of foreign workers as leverage against countries whose foreign policies run counter to Libya's. In 1995 the regime threatened to expel Tunisian workers if Tunisia normalized relations with Israel The Government expelled hundreds of Palestinian residents to signal its displeasure with the agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (see Section 2.d.).

In October, the regime announced its intention to expel as many as 1 million African workers from its territory including some 300,000 Chadians. By the end of the year, the regime had expelled thousands of workers from Chad, Sudan, and Egypt, claiming that they were in Libya illegally. Government fears of worker ties to Islamic extremist groups may have motivated the wave of expulsions.

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

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