International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

International Outcry over Verdicts in Tripoli

A court in Tripoli convicted 32 Libyan officials from the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi for crimes related to the 2011 revolution on July 28 and sentenced nine of those defendants to death, including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, one of Gaddafi’s sons, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The trial, which began in March 2014, charged 37 Gaddafi-era officials with a wide range of offences linked to the suppression of protests during the revolution, but concerns were voiced by human rights groups and others about Libya’s ability to hold fair trials, even before prosecutors presented any evidence in the courtroom. The verdicts sparked fierce critical reactions from outside Libya, as well as from Saif Gaddafi’s defense lawyer representing him before the ICC. Below is a summary of the reactions.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which monitored the proceedings, said the verdicts are a “cause of strong concern as the trial did not meet international standards of fair trial in a number of ways.” UNSMIL expressed particular alarm at the lack of access to defense lawyers. It noted that some defendants, including Gaddafi, were tried in absentia (he only attended the trial via videolink during four of the 24 sessions that were monitored). The spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also noted that the office was “deeply disturbed” by the verdicts and death sentences handed down.

Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, specifically condemned the death sentence of Saif Gaddafi and said his case “should have been turned over to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for a fair trial.” The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gaddafi in June 2011, but Libya has failed to hand him over to the court. Most recently, in December 2014, judges found Libya non-compliant in cooperating with the ICC and referred the matter to the UN Security Council.

Some of the fiercest criticism about the trial came from human rights organizations. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that the “trial has been plagued by persistent, credible of fair trial breaches that warrant independent and impartial judicial review.” An HRW statement raised several key issues, including lack of access to defense counsel, inability to receive timely access to defendant’s case files, trials in absentia, the imposition of the death penalty, limited public access to proceedings, as well as the general state of insecurity in Libya. The general deterioration of security in the country has prompted many key observer organizations to withdraw. In its response to the verdicts, the International Bar Association (IBA), which has been assessing the trial’s conduct, also cited major problems including a lack of transparency and restrictions on trial observers (read more about the IBA’s work on the trial here).

Amnesty International expressed grave concern that “[i]nstead of helping to establish the truth…this trial exposes the weakness of a criminal justice system which is hanging on by a thread in a war-torn country with no central authority.” The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) urged the Libyan Supreme Court to conduct a full review of the trial and to transfer Gaddafi to the ICC. FIDH President Karim Lahidiji stated: “The fact that nine people may face a firing squad in Libya while victims of both previous regimes and on-going violence have little access to justice or protection is appalling.”

John Jones, QC, who represents Gaddafi before the ICC, issued a statement calling the proceedings in Libya “a show trial from beginning to end.” Saif Gaddafi’s family declared that they were saddened by the trial outcome, and criticized what they said was the failure of states to denounce the “egregious human rights violations” in the verdict.

The verdicts and sentences are expected to be appealed to the Libyan Supreme Court.

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