30 April 2010
Libya: Recent incident highlights need for investigations into the Abu Salim Prison killings
The confrontation between families of victims of the Abu Salim Prison killings of June 1996 and the former coordinator of an organization representing families of those killed in clashes with armed Islamist groups highlights the urgent need for the Libyan authorities to address the legacy of the past, Amnesty International said today.
To date, the Libyan authorities have not revealed the truth about what happened in Abu Salim Prison on 28 and 29 June 1996, where up to 1,200 detainees were believed to have been extra-judicially executed. Families of those killed continue to stage demonstrations calling for truth, justice and adequate reparation.
During one such demonstration on 17 April 2010 in Benghazi, protestors were involved in an altercation with Mouftah Badri, the former coordinator of So That We Don’t Forget, an organization which campaigns for the rights of victims killed or injured in clashes with armed Islamist groups in the 1990s.
Against the backdrop of clashes between armed Islamist groups and the security forces, the Libyan authorities arbitrarily arrested thousands of individuals, including those suspected of being sympathizers or members of armed groups. Many among those arrested are believed to have been later killed in the Abu Salim Prison in 1996.
According to eyewitness, Mouftah Badri insulted the protestors and attacked them with a machete. Pictures of him swinging a machete at protestors have appeared on the Al-Manara Libyan news website, which is based abroad. It was reported that members of Libyan security forces were present during the attack, but failed to intervene. As a result of the attack, Fathi Tourbil, Head of the Organizing Committee of Families of Victims of Abu Salim in Benghazi, needed three stitches in the back of his head. Upon leaving the hospital, Fathi Tourbil, accompanied by members of other families, went to the Madina Police Station to file a complaint against Mouftah Badri. However, upon arrival, they discovered that Mouftah Badri had already filed a complaint against three of the protestors: Fathi Tourbil, Faraj Al-Sharani and Walid Al-‘Abar. The men are accused of participating in a brawl and causing injury.
The Madina Partial Prosecution, under the Public Prosecution in North Benghazi, opened an investigation into the complaints. It has so far interrogated several family members, including Fathi Tourbil, Faraj Al-Sharani and Walid Al-‘Abar, who are at liberty pending the outcome of the investigation, but who have been placed under judicial control. Consequently, they have to present themselves to the Public Prosecution in North Benghazi twice a week.
The men’s defence claim that Mouftah Badri has not presented himself to the Madina Partial Prosecution, despite a convocation order requiring him to do so. Mouftah Badri was quoted in Cerene newspaper denying the accusations against him and stating that the protestors attacked and verbally insulted him. He was also quoted saying that his father, a law-enforcement official, had been killed by people who were among those who later died in Abu Salim Prison in 1996.
Amnesty International calls on the Libyan authorities to ensure that a full, independent, and impartial investigation is conducted into the incident of 17 April 2010, including into allegations of the failure of the security forces to intervene; and that anyone found responsible is brought to justice in proceedings meeting international fair trial standards.
Failure to do so would send a chilling message that families of victims of the Abu Salim Prison killings might face reprisals for publicly demanding for their rights. The Libyan authorities must also take concrete steps to ensure that the rights of families of victims of the Abu Salim Prison killings to freedom of expression and assembly are fully respected. Amnesty International repeats its call to the Libyan authorities to respond to their legitimate demands for truth, justice and adequate reparation. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Libyan government is under an obligation to reveal the truth about the Abu Salim Prison killings, to bring those responsible to justice, and to provide adequate reparation to the families including but not limited to financial compensation.
Official recognition that any disturbances took place at the Abu Salim Prison in 1996 came only eight years later, when Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi acknowledged to an Amnesty International delegation in February 2004 that killings did take place. To date, no full, independent, impartial investigation has been conducted into the events, and no perpetrators have been brought to justice. In 2009, the authorities announced that a committee had been established to investigate the incident; but no public details on its mandate or the outcome of its investigation have been made available.Instead, the Libayn authorities have offered families of victims financial compensation, on condition that they renounce their right to judicial redress.
Many families of victims of the Abu Salim killings, particularly in Benghazi, have rejected the authorities’ approach of addressing the Abu Salim Prison killings.
A group of 30 families in Benghazi, whose relatives had been arrested during different periods since 1989, and who have had no news regarding their fate since their arrest have taken their grievances to court. In June 2008, the North Benghazi Court of First Instance, civil division, ordered the authorities to reveal and officially notify the families of the whereabouts and fate of 33 individuals believed to have died in the Abu Salim Prison killings in 1996 or elsewhere in custody. To date the decision has not been implemented.
Families have became increasingly vocal in demanding their rights since the second half of 2008 – perhaps encouraged by the court’s recognition of the legitimacy of their demands and by calls by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, and the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation to address the killings. Significantly for Libya, where freedom of association and assembly is severely restricted in law and practice, families of victims of the Abu Salim Prison killings regularly hold protests in Benghazi voicing their demands. Even though the authorities generally tolerate these protests, several of those active in the protests face harassment and intimidation, including threatening phone calls, surveillance, restrictions on travel and even arrest. For instance, five relatives of victims of Abu Salim Prison killings, including Fathi Tourbil, were arrested and detained incommunicado in March 2009 in connection with the protests, before being released without charge or trial several days later.
In mid 1995, armed clashes took place between armed Islamist groups, including the the al-Jama’a al-Islamiya al-Muqatila, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and the Libyan security forces in eastern parts of the country including Benghazi and Derna, leaving scores dead on both sides. The clashes are believed to have continued sporadically until the late 1990s. Amnesty International unreservedly condemns any deliberate attacks against civilians and indiscriminate attacks, which show a complete disregard for the right to life.