Ms. Navanethem Pillay
High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10
29 May 2009
Re: Libya : Deep concern about the death in custody of human rights defender Fathi El-Jahmi
Dear Ms. High Commissioner,
The Libyan League for Human Rights, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders1, and the EuroMediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) wish to express their deep concern about the death in custody of human rights defender Fathi El-Jahmi. In Lybia, human rights, including the right to life, continue to be violated by various means, even by the murder of prisoners of conscience and opinion arbitrarily arrested, detained or condemned. Libya is among the few countries which have ratified most of the international human rights instruments, but one of the States least respectful of the letter and spirit of what they have ratified. On 21 May 2009, Mr. Fathi El-Jahmi, Libya’s most prominent advocate of democracy and human rights, lost his life under suspicious conditions, after the Libyan Government, in a rush and surprising move, evacuated him to Amman, Jordan for emergency “medical care”, while he was in an allegedly semiconscious or comatose state and breathing on a ventilator . It appears that Libyan security agents accompanied Mr. El-Jahmi to Amman , Jordan . According to the information received, they finally supervised the repatriation of his corpse and his precipitated burial in Benghazi , Libya , without even performing an autopsy.
Our organisations fear that Mr. Fathi El-Jahmi’s evacuation was decided, wholly or partly, to avoid any accusation or embarrassment that a death in custody might cause to the Libyan Government. Indeed, a score of human rights organisations had repeatedly and for months requested the Libyan Government to allow Mr. El-Jahmi to be transferred to a properly equipped medical centre but in vain. The Libyan Government persisted, since the incarceration of Mr. ElJahmi in October 2002, in its refusal to treat humanely all humanitarian requests and kept Mr. El-Jahmi under inhuman detention conditions. Mr. ElJahmi was denied proper medical care as prescribed by independent physicians. According to the Government’s top security officer Colonel Tohamy Khaled, Mr. El-Jahmi was in good health condition, but he was mentally disturbed.
“Physicians for Human rights” (PHR) visited Mr. El-Jahmi twice in detention, in 2005 and in March 2008, and conducted independent medical examination of the prisoner. In 2008, PHR wrote: “independent medical judgment has not governed the care of Mr. El-Jahmi. Not only was he inappropriately confined in a hospital for many months he was also placed in a psychiatric facility without cause, and the Libyan Government never provided any evidence to support such an intervention”. The PHR report confirmed that “Mr. El-Jahmi suffered from diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. At the time of PHR’s visit in March 2008, Mr. El-Jahmi remained detained in the Tripoli Medical Center , where security officers controlled access to visitors. Mr. El-Jahmi’s hospitalization under guard stemmed from a May 2006 court decision, which determined him mentally unfit for trial and ordered him detained at a psychiatric hospital. During the year spent by Mr. El-Jahmi at the psychiatric hospital, his health significantly declined, forcing his transfer to the Tripoli Medical Center in July 2007. Mr. El-Jahmi told PHR that during his detention in the psychiatric hospital, authorities denied him access to needed medications and a doctor, as well as family visits”2. Human Rights Watch, which participated in Mr. El-Jahmi’s interview, added that: “Two days before this examination [14 March 2008], the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which is headed by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, had reported that Fathi El-Jahmi had been released and “was now in the care of his family”. In fact he remained in State custody at the Tripoli Medical Centre. Security officers continued to supervise him and were present outside his room. In addition his family are kept under close surveillance and his passport has not been returned”3.
Mr. Fathi El-Jahmi will be remembered as the first Libyan who publicly and peacefully challenged, inside Libya, the Government known for its absolute disrespect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to make real reforms based on free choice through democracy and respect of human rights, including the organisation of free and fair election, the legalisation of a free press, and the end of detention based on political motives. Mr. El-Jahmi was first arrested on 19 October 2002 and briefly released on 12 March 2004. Two weeks later, Libyan security forces rearrested El-Jahmi after he spoke with the US funded AlHurra television of his determination to pursue his work for democracy in Libya and declared publicly his opposition to the way Libyan public affairs were conducted. He languished in prison and in prison hospitals until his death on 21 May 2009 while his family members faced ever greater harassment, including the loss of their home.
We fear that the precipitated transfer of Mr. ElJahmi, under guard and in a allegedly semiconscious, to a medical centre in Amman could be motivated by a will to cover up a potential death in custody, resulting from either lack of proper medical care or outright neglect. We fear that the Government attempted through the precipitated “release” of Mr. ElJahmi to avoid being accused of failing to fulfill its duty to protect the life of those in its care, especially that the death in custody of Mr. ElJahmi came after the death in custody, in Busleem Prison, of Mr. Ali Mohamed AlFakhri known as Mr. Ibn AlSheikh AlLibi who was held and tortured in secret US and Egyptian detention centers from late 2001 to at least 2005 before the CIA handed him over to Libya in 2007 or 2008. Mr. Ibn Alsheikh was found dead in his cell in Busleem prison in Tripoli on 9 May 2009. Every unnatural death in custody constitutes a human rights concern and Libya should be held to account for it pursuant to its obligations under the human rights instruments ratified by it. Therefore, the Libyan authorities should conduct an independent investigation into all deaths occurred in custody in Libya .
In view of the human rights situation that prevails in Libya , the undersigned organisations fear that the necessary conditions for an independent investigation cannot be met. Therefore, they call upon you, in your capacity as High Commissioner for Human Rights, to encourage any measure that could be adopted by the UN human rights independent mechanisms in order to ensure that (a) an immediate, effective, thorough and impartial investigation into the above mentioned facts is conducted, (b) the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a competent , independent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided by the law. We all believe that, as stated by PHR, “the Libyan Government has always asserted that it was providing the best possible care to Mr. Fathi AlJahmi. Therefore, they should have nothing to hide and should allow a full investigation”.
We hope that the UN human rights independent mechanisms will use the present submission within the framework of their mandate and we request your urgent intervention on this situation. We remain available for any additional information.
The Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR)
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture
The EuroMediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment
Mr. Frank William La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to
freedom of opinion and expression
Ms Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.