Last night, I attended a lecture by Louise Arbour, the former Chief Prosecutor at the ICTY and ICTR, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and former Supreme Court Justice in Canada. Arbour reminded the audience of something that piqued my interest: In November 2010, just a few scant months before Libya dissolved into chaos, the UN Human Rights Commission’s Universal Periodic Review looked into the state of human rights in Libya. Considering the violence and human rights abuses in Libya since February, the Council’s findings and the opinions of states responding to the Review’s findings are astonishing.
I have had the chance to go through the Report and highlight some of the most interesting findings, declarations by the Libyan declaration regarding its human rights records, and the responses of states below. Note that this is not an exhaustive list and that the sections below were taken directly from the UNHRC’s Report.
What becomes readily apparent is the extent to which no states believed that a spiral of brutal repression in Libya was on the horizon. This is not to apportion blame on them for not predicting the upheavals in the Arab world. Few, if any, observers predicted the extent and reach of the ‘Arab Spring’, much less the brutality with which democratic movements would be met.
Yet it remains remarkable that, with the exception of a handful of states, virtually all participating nations, democratic and autocratic, expressed some level of praise for human rights standards and improvements in Libya. It is worthwhile asking whether the encouragement expressed by Western states, in particular, with regards to Libya’s human rights standards was part of a broader strategy of engaging with Libya and recognizing Gaddafi’s regime as legitimate.
Libya’s Presentation to the Council:
The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya believed that the promotion and protection of human rights was one of the most important factors for the progress and development of the people…
The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was party to most human rights treaties and the protocols thereto, and those instruments took precedence over national laws and could be directly applied by the courts once they had been ratified…
The delegation noted that all rights and freedoms were contained in a coherent, consolidated legal framework. The legal guarantees formed the basis for protection of the basic rights of the people. Further, abuses that might occur were dealt with by the judiciary, and the perpetrators were brought before justice. The judiciary safeguarded the rights of individuals and was assisted by other entities, most importantly the Office of the Public Prosecutor…
Protection of human rights was guaranteed in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya; this included not only political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights. The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya referred to its pioneering experience in the field of wealth distribution and labour rights…
The delegation indicated that women were highly regarded in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and their rights were guaranteed by all laws and legislation. Discriminatory laws had been revoked…
The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya believed that human rights education was a duty that should be fulfilled in the school system and the family system and by relevant civil society organizations…
The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya noted that laws safeguarded freedom of expression through principles enshrined in the Great Green Document. Article 5 promoted the right of expression of every person.
Qatar praised the legal framework for the protection of human rights and freedoms, including, inter alia, its criminal code and criminal procedure law, which provided legal guarantees for the implementation of those rights.
The Syrian Arab Republic praised the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for its serious commitment to and interaction with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. It commended the country for its democratic regime based on promoting the people’s authority through the holding of public conferences, which enhanced development and respect for human rights, while respecting cultural and religions traditions.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea praised the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for its achievements in the protection of human rights, especially in the field of economic and social rights, including income augmentation, social care, a free education system, increased delivery of health-care services, care for people with disabilities, and efforts to empower women.
Egypt commended the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for progress in building a comprehensive national human rights framework of institutions and in drafting legislation and supporting its human resources in that area.
Mexico thanked the delegation for the presentation of the national report and the answers that it had provided. It expressed appreciation for the political will of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to address the human rights challenges facing it. Mexico hoped that the universal periodic review of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya would make a positive contribution to national efforts to overcome challenges to guaranteeing the full enjoyment of human rights.
Switzerland recalled that the right to freedom of expression was a fundamental right, in particular article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 9 of the African Charter. Switzerland noted that hundreds of peoples were under administrative detention in the country, despite having been acquitted by the court or having already served their sentence. Courts continued to pronounce death sentences and inflict corporal punishment, including whipping and amputation.
Australia welcomed the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’s progress in human rights and its willingness to facilitate visits by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which demonstrated the country’s commitment to engaging with the international community on human rights. Australia remained concerned over restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression; the detention of political prisoners; limited rights to fair trial under the new State Security court; enforced disappearances; deaths in custody; discrimination towards minorities; lack of legal protections against domestic violence; and the application of the death penalty.
Canada welcomed improvements made by the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in its respect for human rights, specifically the recent legislation that granted women married to foreigners the right to pass on their Libyan nationality to their children, as well as the acknowledgement of the deaths of hundreds of Abu Salim prisoners in 1996 and the first incountry release of a report by an international non-governmental organization in 2009.
Myanmar commended the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for its economic and social progress, and recognized efforts in domestic legislation aimed at guaranteeing equal rights.
Viet Nam congratulated the delegation on the quality of the national report. It noted with satisfaction the commitment of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to the protection and promotion of the human rights of its people, particularly the country’s accession to the main international human rights conventions. It welcomed achievements made in the exercise of human rights.
The Czech Republic remained concerned that the death penalty could be applied even to offences that could not necessarily be characterized as the most serious crimes. It also remained concerned that corporal punishment, including amputation and flogging, was prescribed by law.
The United States of America supported the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’s increased engagement with the international community. It called on the country to comply with its human rights treaty obligations. It expressed concern about reports of the torture of prisoners and about the status of freedom of expression and association, including in its legislation, which often resulted in the arrest of people for political reasons.
Israel noted that The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya should live up to the membership standards set forth in General Assembly resolution 60/251 and serve as a model in the protection of human rights; while, in reality, its membership in the Council served to cover the ongoing systemic suppression, in law and in practice, of fundamental rights and freedoms. Israel made recommendations
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland welcomed visits by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. It encouraged the country to consider further visits and to issue a standing invitation to the United Nations special procedures. It remained concerned about the enjoyment of the freedoms of expression and association, and asked for further details in that regard, including on the development of a new press law.
Turkey welcomed the criminal justice reform project that the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya had been pursuing in collaboration with international organizations. It commended the importance attached to cooperation with human rights civil society organizations and the increasing number of such organizations in the country.
France referred to the situation of refugees; allegations concerning arbitrary detention, torture, ill treatment and enforced disappearance; the death penalty, which remained in force for a large number of crimes; the absence of non-governmental organizations with expertise in the field of human rights; and the severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association.
For the full report, which includes all statements and recommendations made by states to Libya regarding its human rights standards, click here.