- The Libyan government has blocked a scheduled visit by a research team from the US group Human Rights Watch. The team was slated to begin a three-week fact-finding trip on Tuesday, but the government of Libya has withheld the visas, the group said today. The Americans were to look into continued problems of torture, political trials and the treatment of immigrants.
- The Libyan government says it is opening to the world, but it behaves as if there is much to hide, commented Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch. "They are letting in oil companies and tourists, but keeping out human rights groups," she added.
The United States and European Union (EU) have rewarded Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi and the Libyan government for renouncing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction by lifting sanctions and trade embargoes. Heads of State and business leaders have flocked to Tripoli in recent months as the economy slowly reforms.
Libya has also been invited to participate in the Euro-Mediterranean community, which is to unite the EU, North Africa and parts of the Middle East to one single free trade zone by 2010. The EU however demands minimum respect of human rights standards before a country is admitted to the free trade cooperation.
The international human rights group Amnesty thus earlier this year was let into the country. Amnesty filed a critical report, but maintained it in a diplomatic language, praising Colonel Ghaddafi for his openness. The New York-based Human Rights Watch, however, this week was denied access to Libya.
According to the US group, internal repression in Libya "remains intense. Libyan law bans independent political parties, associations and media. Torture is common, and hundreds of political prisoners are behind bars after trials that were deeply flawed."
The visit would have been Human Rights Watch's first to Libya, following what the group says were "more than six months of promises and delays by the Libyan government." Amnesty spent two weeks in Libya in February, producing a report that criticised a pattern of human rights violations, a failure to investigate past abuses, and a climate of fear.
Human Rights Watch had planned to investigate the cases of political prisoners, specifically the arrest and incommunicado detention of Fathi al-Jahmi and the 86 students and professionals imprisoned for supporting or sympathising with the banned Libyan Islamic Group, also known as the Muslim Brotherhood, although they were reportedly not accused of planning or committing violent acts.
On Wednesday, an appeals chamber of the special "People's Court", which tries political cases, upheld the sentences for the Islamist group, including for two university professors sentenced to death.
Two specialists from the US groups also planned to investigate the human rights conditions of women and the government's treatment of migrants and refugees. Asylum seekers and migrants living in or transiting through Libya - particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa - are reported to face police abuse, arbitrary detention and substandard detention conditions.
Deportations and expulsions to countries like Eritrea and Somalia are common, where the returnees are at risk of very serious abuse. Some EU member states have proposed to establish offshore asylum processing centres in Libya, even though Libya has failed to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no functioning asylum system.
- Given Libya's terrible treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, the EU's offshore processing centres would likely violate the right to seek asylum, Ms Whitson said. "The EU would be shifting responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers to a developing country with a poor human rights record," she added.
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