Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) is concerned that the absence of fair trial standards during Gaddafi official trials will jeopardise the right of victims to justice.
On 28 July 2015, the Tripoli Court of Assize (the Court) sentenced 37 Gaddafi administration officials for offences related to suppressing the 2011 Libyan uprising and for crimes committed during the conflict. Among the officials were Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Abdullah al-Senussi, the administration’s former intelligence chief. LFJL is concerned that the defendants’ were denied their fair trial rights and that proceedings were not transparent or accessible to independent observers. This in turn has undermined the opportunity of victims to participate in process and achieve justice for serious human rights violations.
Following their detention and throughout the legal proceedings, many of the defendants have stated regularly that they have been denied their fundamental rights. Complaints have included the denial of the right to be promptly informed of the charges brought against them, to access legal counsel, to challenge the evidence brought against them, and to be present at their trial. There have also been serious allegations that the defendants were subjected to ill treatment during their detention. As a result, several human rights agencies, including the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have expressed doubts that international fair trial standards were upheld.
LFJL is also concerned that the legal proceedings failed to determine individual criminal responsibility for the atrocious crimes or to substantively evidence the chain of command which enabled such acts to be committed. Instead, many of the defendants were held responsible by association for crimes attributed to the Gaddafi administration, without evidencing their individual involvement with specific acts. The admissibility of new evidence to the proceedings was also extremely restricted. This prevented the establishment of a detailed account of the truth behind the serious human rights violations considered during the proceedings.
“Through failing to ensure the defendants’ right to a fair trial, the verdicts released on the 28 July risk undermining the possibility of justice being delivered,” stated Thomas Ebbs, Acting Director for LFJL. “In doing so, the proceedings may have denied victims and their family members the opportunity to hear the truth and for those responsible to be found conclusively accountable.” he added.
The deterioration of the security situation in Libya and the politically sensitive nature of the cases also raise uncertainty as to the Court’s ability to reach impartial and independent decisions. The Libyan judicial system, as a whole, has been effectively suspended for all but exceptional criminal cases since February 2014, due to an increase in the use of violence against judicial bodies intended to obstruct and influence judicial proceedings. To account for these concerns, it was vital that the trial sessions considering the Gaddafi officials’ cases be transparent and open in their decision making processes.
Despite the amendments made to articles 241 and 243 of Libya’s Code of Criminal Procedure to allow trial sessions to be broadcasted, several sessions were only aired partially and others not all. Trial monitoring and public access to the proceedings was also extremely restricted by the Court.The United Nation’s Support Mission In Libya’s (UNSMIL) observers were prevented from attending trial proceedings in person from June 2014. The lack of independent monitoring throughout raises serious concerns regarding the Court’s willingness to hold fair and proceedings, LFJL is therefore strongly concerned over the legitimacy of the legal decision making which informed the Court’s decisions in its rulings.
LFJL calls on the Supreme Court to review fully the verdict in an independent and impartial manner. In doing so, the Supreme Court must take into account and remedy the current concerns regarding the legitimacy of the verdict reached. “The recent trial proceedings raise serious concerns about the Libyan legal system’s ability to deliver justice for human rights violations. However, they also create the opportunity for Libya to openly address its systematic faults and, in doing so, protect the rights of defendants and victims of crimes. This is a transitional moment which will affect both the delivery of justice in this case and countless other cases in the future” stated Ebbs.