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The Libyan League For Human Rights

Tuesday, 7 March, 2006

Release of prisoners of opinion is a step in the right direction, but...

1. The Libyan League for Human Rights welcomes the Libyan Government's decision to release 130 prisoners of opinion who had served terms of imprisonment ranging from 6 to 15 years. However the number of political prisoners not covered by the amnesty is estimated at about 500, including Mr. Fathi Al-Jahmi, in addition to those arrested in the aftermath of the protest at Benghazi on Friday, 17 February 2006. Their number is estimated by private sources (in view of the total governmental blackout concerning these detentions) at 300-500 detainees. The League regrets that the persons amnestied were released only after being obliged to sign an undertaking not to engage in any future activities relating to public affairs, which is in itself a flagrant violation of their civil and political rights.

2. While the League has no doubt that the release of a batch of detainees constitutes a significant humanitarian act from the standpoint of the persons released, their families and society as a whole, violations of human rights, including arbitrary detention, imprisonment and unfair trials, will not cease merely by virtue of the release of political prisoners who were primarily victims of random and arbitrary detention and unjust trials, since no earnest measures have been taken to address the reasons which led to those violations. The main reason for violations of human rights in general, and arbitrary detention and imprisonment in particular, lies in the lack of a national Constitution recognizing the equality of all Libyans before the law, as well as the separation of judicial, legislative and executive powers, and clearly defining the structure of the State, the jurisdiction of its institutions, the functions and responsibilities of its rulers and the democratic process by which they should be elected. Such a Constitution is the only way to effectively guarantee the cessation of human rights violations in Libya, safeguard public freedoms and prevent people from being incarcerated for the mere exercise of their basic human rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. What is needed is an extension of the scope of legal freedoms in such a way as to ensure that all Libyans can participate in public affairs under conditions that permit freedom to criticize, call to account, publish, organize, vote and stand for election, as well as other basic legitimate rights which every citizen should enjoy. The narrow scope of freedoms in Libya poses a constant threat to the citizen's basic rights and is the main reason underlying the never-ending campaigns of detention by security services and revolutionary committees which still believe that the citizen¡¯s exercise of any of his or her rights is a crime meriting imprisonment, detention and even deprivation of the right to life, as happened at Benghazi.

3. The time has come to institute reform programmes and recognize the right of citizens to fully enjoy all their freedoms. However, no reform will be possible without acknowledgement of the fact that the country's interests do not necessarily coincide with the interests of the ruling party of revolutionary committees and that citizens are capable of loyally serving the interests of their country without being registered members or supporters of that party or any of its organizations. Priority must be accorded to national interest and regimes should derive their legitimacy from their ability to serve and express those interests. No party, faction or regime is entitled to claim a unique historic role and no individual is entitled to ostracize or persecute another or deprive him of his right to life, his right to freedom of expression or his right to take part in the conduct of public affairs. The best way to avoid further suffering and human rights violations in Libya is through the rapid initiation of genuine dialogue and acceptance of the principles of pluralism, these being the essential prerequisites for any plan designed to introduce reform or change. The League takes this opportunity to urge all sections of Libyan society at home and abroad to embark on a serious national dialogue, from which no one should be excluded, in order to create a new climate of confidence and mutual respect that will enable all Libyans to focus on their country's fundamental interests. The release of prisoners of opinion is a step in the right direction but is insufficient in itself unless it is followed by further courageous steps to abolish restrictions and enable all Libyans to participate in the establishment of a modern State led by a Government that derives its legitimacy from a social contract based on pluralism, peaceful alternation of power and the rule of law.

2 March 2006

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