U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Libya

LIBYA[1]*   The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is a dictatorship ruled by Major General (formerly Colonel) Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi, aided by extragovernmental Revolutionary Committees operating at his behest. The governing principles of the society are expressed in Qadhafi's "Green Book" rather than in a constitution. He has created a political system borrowing from pan-Islamic and pan-Arab sources and purporting to establish a "third way" superior to both capitalism and communism. In the past, he has used assassination and intimidation as ways to control his enemies abroad; at home he continues to use a variety of summary judicial proceedings to suppress any popular resistance. Ethnic minorities, such as Berbers, are tightly controlled, and the Government continues its campaign against banned Islamic groups. Libya maintains an extensive security apparatus, consisting of several elite military units, including Qadhafi's personal bodyguards. The local Revolutionary Committees and People's Committees also have security functions, designed to monitor as well as protect the populace. The result is multilayered, pervasive surveillance and control of individual activities. Limited privatization continued in 1993, with government decrees legalizing private wholesale trade and the sale of some parastatal assets. State domination of the economy is assured, however, by complete government control of Libya's rich oil resources, the principal source of foreign exchange. Libya has used part of its oil income to finance internal development (new schools, hospitals, roads), but much has been wasted. There continued to be little change in the human rights situation in 1993, and most rights remain tightly restricted. There are no effective rights 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. Personal rights, such as the right to be considered innocent unless proven guilty, to a public and speedy trial, to legal counsel, to be secure in one's home or person, or to hold property, are also strictly limited.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Opposition sources claim approximately 300 military personnel were killed in a failed "coup attempt" in mid-October. A large number of offenses, including political offenses and "economic crimes," are punishable by death under Libyan law. For example, Law No. 71 of 1972 provides for the death penalty for anyone involved with any group activity based on any ideology opposed to the principles of the revolution. Despite his longstanding stated intentions, General Qadhafi has not acted to abolish the death penalty for this offense. To the contrary, in the September 1991 Consolidation of Liberty Law No. 20, Article 4 stipulates that the death penalty may be imposed on "those whose lives constitute a threat or cause depravity to society."

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance in 1993 (but see Section 1.c.).

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, prisoners are reportedly tortured during interrogations or for discipline. There were no confirmed reports of torture in 1993; it is impossible to say to what extent torture was used in 1993 because of the tight controls maintained by the Government concerning such information. Foreign workers, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa, have been the target of periodic detentions and alleged torture. Many prisoners are held incommunicado, which makes confirmation of torture difficult. Methods of torture reportedly include: chaining to a wall for hours, clubbing, electric shock, corkscrews in the back, lemon juice in open wounds, breaking fingers and allowing the joints to heal without medical care, suffocation using 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 April General Qadhafi publicly called for a stricter application of Koranic law, or Shar'ia. He criticized the leniency of judicial punishments, recommending legislation to mandate amputation for thievery and public whipping for adulterers. There was no evidence that these recommendations were enacted into law.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under Libyan law, detainees may be held incommunicado for unlimited periods. Many political prisoners are held in unofficial detention centers, controlled by members of the Revolutionary Committees, where prolonged periods of incommunicado detention are common. Many allegedly are held without charge or trial, apparently as an example to other would-be opponents of the regime. There continued to be reliable reports that between 400 and 500 political detainees were still being held, most of whom were arrested after a limited amnesty was proclaimed in 1988. Some opponents of the regime claim the Government repeatedly detains thousands more for periods too brief (3 to 4 months) to permit confirmation by outside observers. While undergoing interrogation, sometimes for periods of several months, prisoners are given no access to legal representation. Foreigners have also been subject to arbitrary arrest and torture. There have been credible reports that some foreign workers in Libya have been forced into military training and military service on behalf of Libya or coerced into subversive activities against their own countries. Exile is not a form of punishment practiced in Libya; to the contrary, General Qadhafi seeks to pressure Libyans working or studying abroad to return to Libya. The regime does, however, arbitrarily expel 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 arbitrary decision of the security forces. Security forces have the power to judge persons guilty without trial, particularly "traitors to the people." Some trials are held in private or in the absence of the accused. An 1981 law prohibits the private practice of law and makes all attorneys employees of the Secretariat of Justice. Libya claims it "guarantees prisoners all necessary means of defense and safeguards of justice adequate to the principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and provides for legal assistance "as soon as possible with respect to the exigencies of interrogation." This claim notwithstanding, there continued to be credible reports that these rights are denied. Alleged political offenses have at times been tried before ad hoc revolutionary courts rather than by civilian courts, with opportunities to engage defense counsel severely restricted. A number of these trials have been held in secret. Despite the regime's announcement of their abolition in 1988, "extraordinary" courts are still in operation and have been publicly discussed in the case of Islamists. Of the 400 to 500 political prisoners believed to be held in Libyan prisons, most were never formally charged or tried.

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

The Government does not respect the right to privacy. The legal requirement that judicial warrants be obtained before entering a private home is often disregarded. Local and international telephone calls are routinely monitored. The security agencies and the Revolutionary Committees oversee an extensive informer network. Libyan exiles report that mere family ties to suspected regime opponents can result in harassment or even persecution and detention by the authorities. Property may be seized and burned if it belongs to "enemies of the people" or those who "cooperate" with foreign powers.

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 General Qadhafi or his regime. Infrequent media criticism of regime members or policies is interpreted as orchestrated attempts to test public reactions or as efforts to weaken the popular support of General Qadhafi's potential challengers within the Government. Political speech is repressed through legislation banning all political activities not sanctioned by the Government, including the nonviolent expression of conscientiously held beliefs. The legislation that makes the dissemination of "hostile information" a crime is so all-encompassing that almost any form of expression may be deemed illegal. Fear of being informed upon by elements of the Revolutionary Committees and an underlying climate of mistrust at all levels of society further inhibit freedom of speech. Libyan media are owned and controlled by the State. There is a state-run daily newspaper, with a circulation of 40,000. The Revolutionary Committees publish several smaller newspapers. JANA, the official news agency, is the designated conduit for official views. Publishing opinions contrary to government policy is not permitted. Newsweek, Time, the International Herald Tribune, and Express Jeune Afrique are available but are routinely censored. There are strict controls on foreign publications at the Tripoli airport. Foreign broadcasts can be received.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Public assembly is repressed unless it is government controlled and supportive of regime positions. The right of association is limited and granted only to institutions affiliated with the regime. According to Law No. 71 of 1972, party activities constituting "treason" are punishable by death. Offending activities include "any grouping, organization, or formation, of whatever kind or number, which is based on a political concept opposed in its aims to the principles of the Revolution." Organizations such as independent trade unions and professional associations are viewed as unnecessary, since General Qadhafi has vowed not to "accept intermediaries between the revolution and its working forces." In spite of these restrictions, worsening economic conditions and growing dissatisfaction with government performance prompted several informal protest meetings.

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 religious sect. In its place, General Qadhafi established the Islamic Call Society (ICS), which became the outlet for state-sanctioned religion as well as a tool for exporting the Libyan revolution abroad. In 1992 the Government announced the disbandment of the ICS; however, recent public statements by the ICS suggest it remains active. Islamic groups at variance with the state-sanctioned version are banned. Members of some minority religions (e.g., Christianity) are allowed to conduct services. Services in Christian churches are attended by the foreign community. There is a resident Catholic bishop operating two churches with a small number of priests. Nuns reportedly are permitted to wear religious habits. General Qadhafi's domestic campaign against banned Islamic groups continued in 1993, with frequent arrests of suspected members and sympathizers and public denouncements of the groups. There was one unverified report that General Qadhafi forced orthodox Muslims at one mosque to shave (as a form of public humiliation) after Friday services. Those who refused were allegedly arrested. A majority of the political detainees in Libya are reported to be associated with banned Islamic groups.

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

With the exception of security areas, movement is not usually restricted for Libyan citizens. Traditionally, exit permits have been required for travel abroad, and currency controls have also served to restrict travel. Women must have their husband's permission for them or their children to travel abroad. 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, increased in 1993 as Libyans began to feel the full impact of the international air embargo. However, the Libyan Government tightened border controls in October, apparently as a form of political retaliation against neighboring states for their enforcement of U.N. sanctions against Libya. The Revolutionary Committees maintain surveillance of some Libyans while they are abroad. Libyan nationals' right of return is theoretically fully protected, even for opponents of General Qadhafi. However, this "right" may be more nearly an obligation; the regime often calls on students, many of whom receive a government subsidy, and others working abroad to return on little or no notice and without regard to the impact on their studies or work. Libyans who study abroad are interrogated on their return home. A number of Libyans, including most exiled opposition leaders, refuse to return. Opposition activists claim Libyan agents in Cairo abducted, and possibly murdered, former Libyan Foreign Minister and prominent opposition figure Mansur Kikhya in December. Qadhafi also called publicly for the murder of regime opponents.

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

The people of Libya have no right to change their government. Major government decisions are controlled by General Qadhafi, a few key associates, or by committees acting in his name. He appoints military officers and official functionaries down to junior levels. Power flows through a small circle of trusted associates. Corruption and favoritism (partially based on tribal origin) are major problems, adversely affecting the efficiency of government. Political parties and tribal or local groupings are prohibited. Participation in elections is mandatory, and all candidates are approved by the Revolutionary Committees. Candidates may not be "merchants, contractors, tribal advocates, election brokers, officials of the former (pre-1969) government, or people who have been attacked by the power of the revolution." Popular participation in government is theoretically provided by the grassroots People's Committees, which send representatives annually to the national General People's Congress (GPC). In practice, the GPC is a rubberstamp assembly, approving all recommendations made by General Qadhafi.

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

No independent human rights organizations are permitted to function. The Libyan Arab Human Rights Committee, a government organization, was created in May 1989. However, there are no reports of any activities by the Committee. Libyan officials last met with Amnesty International (AI) representatives during a June 1988 visit. Since then, the Government has repeatedly refused to reply substantively to AI's appeals on behalf of political detainees in Libya. The Government did not respond to requests for visits by AI in 1993.

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


Women's rights are restricted both by law and by the conservative Islamic attitudes of Libya's society. There were credible reports in 1993 of women being harassed or briefly detained for their manner of dress or for approaching a man in public without a male escort. General Qadhafi has led efforts to improve the status of women and expand their access to educational and employment opportunities. With some exceptions, women currently receive basic military training and are subject to the military draft. No information is available on the extent to which violence against women is a problem in Libya.


The Government provides subsidized medical care and education, improving the welfare of children over the past 25 years. Declining revenues and general economic mismanagement, however, is leading to cutbacks, particularly in medical services. Female circumcision, which has been condemned by international health experts as damaging to physical and mental health, is reportedly still practiced among tribal groups in remote areas of the south.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Arab-speaking Muslims of mixed Arab and Berber ancestry make up 97 percent of Libya's 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 past years, General Qadhafi sought unsuccessfully to assure that Berbers married only non-Berbers, presumably in an effort to erode their tribal identity. In 1991 and 1992, the Government expelled thousands of black African workers from Libya under circumstances that appeared discriminatory (see Section 6.e.). Other threatened expulsions, primarily directed at Tuaregs, appear intended to exert political and economic pressure on their nations of origin (see Section 6.e.).

People with Disabilities

No information is available on the Government's efforts to assist people with disabilities or to indicate whether it has enacted legislation or otherwise mandated provision of accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers do not have the right to form or join unions of their own choosing. The official trade union organization, the National Trade Unions' Federation, which was created in 1972, is under government control and administered through the People's Committee system. Every Libyan worker is required to join a trade union, but foreign workers are not allowed to join. Although unions are assured the right to "safeguard their interests," there is no right to strike, and no strikes by Libyan workers have been reported for years. In a June 1992 speech, General Qadhafi stated that workers have the right to strike but added that strikes do not occur in Libya because the workers are in control and "can change authority" any time they wish. Despite this statement, no law authorizes workers to strike. With government financing, the official trade union organization plays an activist role in the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions and the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and exploits international trade union contacts to engage in propaganda efforts on behalf of the Government. In November the Arab Maghreb Trade Union Federation (USTMA) suspended the membership of Libya's trade union organization. The suspension followed reports that General Qadhafi had replaced all trade union leaders, in some cases appointing loyal followers without trade union credentials.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Although the Labor Code provides for collective agreements, with the stipulation that the validity of these agreements must be subject to government approval, there is no collective bargaining in Libya.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The comments from the 1992 report of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts that "persons expressing certain political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social, or economic system may be punished with penalties of imprisonment...involving...an obligation to perform labor" remain unchallenged. The same report noted that public employees in Libya can be imprisoned and sentenced to compulsory labor "...as 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 repeatedly told the ILO's Conference Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations that there have been changes in legislation that abolish these provisions, but no corroborating evidence has been submitted 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

Libya maintains a work force of around l,120,000 workers (plus an additional 1.2 million foreign workers) in a population of 4.4 million. There is a legally mandated minimum wage, which is adequate to afford a worker and family a decent standard of living. The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours. Libyan labor law defines the rights and duties of workers, including matters of compensation, pension rights, minimum rest periods, and working hours. A corps of labor inspectors, based in the seven municipalities of the country, are assigned to inspect places of work for compliance with legal standards, including occupational health and safety standards. Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, try to maintain standards originally set by foreign companies. The labor law does not accord equality of treatment to the foreign workers in Libya, who do much of the blue-collar and technical work. Foreign workers may stay in the country only for the duration of the contracts under which they are employed. Foreign workers are subject to arbitrary pressures, such as changes in work rules and contracts, with little option but to accept or to depart the country, often without full compensation for work already performed. Conditions of employment are subject to negotiation between the worker and the employer. Foreign workers who are not under contract enjoy no protection. In the spring of 1990, the Government began expelling thousands of black African workers, claiming they were in Libya illegally. Chadians, Nigerians, Nigeriens, Malians, and Ghanaians were rounded up at their homes or work sites, detained for varying lengths of time, and returned destitute to their countries, usually with no warning to their governments. Press reports in several of these countries have carried unsubstantiated accounts of arbitrary detention and mistreatment of these workers by Libyan authorities prior to their expulsion, as well as of the disappearance of at least 16 workers and the killing, probably extrajudicially, of 1 Malian laborer. There were continued reports of expulsions in 1992, and many workers are reported to be detained under difficult conditions. General Qadhafi reportedly threatened neighboring states in 1993 with mass expulsions of their nationals from Libya to exert economic and political pressure on those states. In November he called for the expulsion of most of the 25,000 Thai workers in Libya. This was apparently in retaliation for the Thai Government's action to remove approximately 200 Thai workers from the Tarhunah chemical weapons project. To date, the Libyan Government has taken no action against the Thai workers.

[1]* Because the United States has no Embassy in Libya and because the regime strictly limits access to information, it is difficult to comment authoritatively on conditions in Libya.

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