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Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

last updated Mar 20, 2014

Current profile status: August 2011

Table of Content

  1. Background Information

  2. Situation of Torture

  3. Documents & Resources

Key Facts


1,759, 540 sq km

Total Population

6,160,000 (UN 2007)

Prison Rate

200 (per 100,000 of national population)1

Capital Punishment

retained, although no executions since 2004


ratified (19 May, 1989) , individual complaints (Art. 22) procedure accepted


not signed



Background Information

Libya gained independence in 1951, when Mohammed Idris al-Sanusi was made king of the federal dynasty. The Revolutionary Command Council, headed by Mu'ammar al Gaddafi, established the Libyan Arab Republic via a coup in 1969 and quickly began implementing socialist policies, inter alia nationalising private enterprises, while expanding the state-controlled sector. In 1971, a single party, the Arab Socialist Union was formed. Since 1977, Libya’s political system has been organised along the political philosophy of jamahiriya, which Gaddafi outlined in his Green Book. In this conception, parliamentary democracy and party systems are rejected, instead it promotes direct representation by the people through popular congresses. Nominal rule is excercised through the General People’s Committee (GPC, the cabinet), headed by the prime minister. In practice, political participation is low and the system lacks public confidence, the GPC does not work as policy making body independently of the core regime figures. De facto ruling power is concentrated in the hands of Gaddafi and a small regime elite, based on control over the security and intelligence apparatus, and the revolutionary committees. Gaddafi, does not hold an official position, but nonetheless appoints all members of the cabinet. Islam is the basis for country´s legal system.

For various reasons, Libya´s relation with U.S. and several European states deteriorated during the 1980s, culminating in the imposition of UN sanctions against Libya in 1992. These events weakened the economy and fuelled internal dissent. However, Gaddafi and his inner circle remained firmly in power. Between 1999-2003 Libya resolved its political disputes with the UN, the US and the EU, and as a result was gradually reintegrated into the international community. This also led to renewed economic cooperation with former enemies.
In February 2011, the whole situation changed dramatically. Protests, triggered by similar movements in Tunisia and Egypt, erupted in several Libyan cities and eventually led to a large military conflict. Gaddafi, aiming to dissolve rebel forces and the demonstrations, acted with relentless severity. The international community decided to take action against the grave human rights violations the troops of Gaddafi committed during the conflict by passing UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on 17 March 2011 which authorized the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya. The NATO soon took over the control of the operation. However, it took more than five months until the Libyan capital Tripoli was captured by rebels supported by NATO air strikes. With Gaddafi still not caught and fighting continuing in various cities in Libya it remains to be seen how the political and humanitarian situation will evolve throughout the next weeks. The exact number of casualties in the conflict is unknown but it is believed to exceed 10,000 people.

The Libyan economy is dependent on the oil and gas sector, which contributes a huge share to the GDP. Compared to most of their neighbours Libyans enjoy a relatively high standard of living, although unemployment is quite high, especially among youth. In 2007, the GDP per capita was at 10,073,8 USD. In the 2009 Human Development Report Libya ranked 55th out of 182 countries with data (HDI 0.847, high human development).

Libya’s human rights record, particularly in terms of political and civil liberties, has not not signifcantly improved during the past few years. Libya´s reintegration into the international community has not been linked to a meaningful internal political opening. Especially freedom association and assembly remain severely restricted. The formation of parties is prohibited by law, independent human rights NGOs are absent, and dissident voices are still systematically repressed. Legislation is geared to deter opposition, as acts violating the Law No. 71 of the Criminalisation of Parties may entail the death penalty. The government has repeatedly refused to allow independent journalists' and lawyers' organizations. The press is still under tight state control, despite a very limited opening in recent years with the establishment of two private newspapers. Neither judges nor lawyers can act fully independently, as noted by the CCPR in its 1995, 1999 and 2007 Concluding Observations. Moreover, Libya operates a special court system, which is eroding important safeguards around the right to a fair trial. These factors, taken together, lead to a situation detrimental to an effective guarantee of many core civil and political rights.

Libya is mildly progressive in terms of women´s rights, at least as far as legislation is concerned. Like its neighbours in the Maghreb, Libya faces substantial and growing „illegal“ migration from sub-Saharan Africa. According to the 2007 CCPR Concluding Observations and the Amnesty International 2009 country report on Libya, the government has allegedly responded to this migratory movement with, inter alia, indefinite detention and ill-treatment of migrants and asylum–seekers.

Situation of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Legal Framework

Libya ratified the ICCPR in 1976, the ICCPR-OP1 and the CAT in 1989, but is not Party to ICCPR-OP2 and OPCAT. Article 17 of the Promotion of Freedom Act No. 20 of 1991 stipulates that “it is prohibited to subject an accused person to any form of physical or mental torture or cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment”. The Libyan Penal Code does not contain a precise definition of physical or mental torture. Torture is criminalised under Article 435 of the Penal Code, which provides that any official personally committing or ordering torture of accused persons is liable to a penalty of three to ten years imprisonment. Article 431 of the Penal Code stipulates that „any public official who, in the discharge of his duty, uses violence against any person in such a way as to undermine his dignity or cause him physical pain is liable to a penalty of imprisonment and a fine of 250 dinars”. Several Supreme Court Rulings, for instance SC/26/534 and SC/24/89, have established the principle that confessions extracted from detained persons through coercion are to be regarded as null and void. Article 30 of the Promotion of Freedom Act, the state party remarked in its 1999 CAT State report, can be invoked if a victim of torture seeks legal investigation into his or her case. Article 166 of the Civil Code provides for compensation for an individual whose rights have been violated, and articles 7 and 60 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allow individuals to request compensation both before civil and criminal courts. According to the 1999 CAT State Report, individuals „may directly invoke the provisions of article 14 of the Convention before the courts. This right may also be exercised by the heirs of a deceased person.“

Practice of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Libya´s cooperation with the Committee against Torture and the CCPR worked relatively well during the 1990s, with State Reports in 1995 and1999. While the Convention has been generally incorporated in the domestic law of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, as noted with satisfaction by the Committee against Torture in its 1995 Concluding Observations, Libya has been continuously accused of systematic torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees over the past 20 years. The Internal Security Agency (ISA, Mukhabarat) seems to be most often implicated in cases of torture and ill-treatment. Two prisons, Abu Salim and Ain Zara, which are under the control of ISA, are notorious for the arbitrary detention of political prisoners.

In 1999, the CCPR urged the government to investigate all cases of alleged torture and to install a more efficient system for monitoring treatment of all detainees. In his report of 1999, the Special Rapporteur on Torture noted that the conditions in Abu Salim prison, where most political prisoners are held, are described as harsh, overcrowded and unsanitary. Available information indicated that the lack of adequate food medical care and the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment had resulted in the deaths of political prisoners.

In its 2007 Concluding Observations, the CCPR criticised that its previous recommendations have not taken into consideration and regretted that almost all subjects of concern remained unchanged, reiterating its concerns over reports of large numbers of disappearances, widespread incommunicado detetention mostly involving the State security bodies, the systematic use of torture, and lack of information by Libya regarding the prosecution of such cases. Moreover, the Committee addressed the issue that Libya routinely and collectively sends back refugees and asylum-seekers to their countries of origin where they might be subject to torture and other ill-treatment. In 2007 the United Nations Human Rights Committee (El Hassy v. Libya (Communication Nr. 1422/2005) found Libya responsible for torture and several other serious human rights violations, including Articles 2(3), 9 and 10 of the ICCPR. The trial indirectly dealt with a large-scale prison massacre in 1996 that happened at the notorious. Abu Salim prison, known as a location where torture of detainees has taken place during 1990s. Although Col. Gaddafi acknowledged for the first time in 2004 that the families of vicitims had the right to know about the fate of their disappeared family members, neither investigation were set in motion nor had the family members been provided with legal remedies. From late 2008 onwards, the families of the victims of the Abu Salim prison massacre gradually received death certificates and were offered large amounts of money in exchange for assurances that family members would not pursue further legal claims in Libyan or international courts. Human Rights Watch noted in 2009 that, while some limited progress in addressing gross violations of the past has been made in recent years, inter alia in the form of the above mentioned compensation payments, the general development of the human rights situation remains in Libya unpredictable and the ability of government security forces to act with impunity against dissent is still effective

Sources: Human Rights Theme Maps,: UPR Info by OHCHR (2008),Human Development Report 2009, “Country Fact Sheet: Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”,: CCPR A/50/40 (1995),CCPR/C/91/D/1422/2005, CCPR/C/LBY/CO/4 (2007), CAT State Report 1999, Report of Special Rapporteur on Torture (1999), AI 2009 Country Report Libya, HRW Country Report Libya,Human Rights Watch Report (2009), “Truth and Justice Can´t Wait: Human Rights Development in Libya amid Institutional Obstacles”,World Organisation against Torture, BBC Country Profiles, UN Data Website, King's College London World Prison Brief