During the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Muammar Gadhafi, revolutionary fighters in Libya rounded up large numbers of Gadhafi loyalists and detained them in prison facilities and makeshift detention centers around the country. The release of such high-profile detainees, either after they have been acquitted of crimes or served their sentences, is a sensitive political issue. This report examines the domestic and international laws and standards governing the secure release of these detainees and provides a number of policy ideas for addressing the shortcomings of Libya’s current release procedures.

Gadhafi-era prisoners line up in queues ahead of their release in Misrata, Libya, in August 2017. (Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters)
Gadhafi-era prisoners line up in queues ahead of their release in Misrata, Libya, in August 2017. (Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters)

Summary

  • During and after Libya’s 2011 revolution, large numbers of Gadhafi loyalists were detained for a loose array of crimes in prison facilities and makeshift detention centers around the country.
  • Since the revolution, ongoing conflict and the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS have contributed to a large backlog of cases and a glut of high-profile or sensitive detainees being held in Libya’s prisons.
  • In conflict, postconflict, and transitional environments, the release of sensitive detainees who have served their sentences or been acquitted of crimes is a political problem that can trigger cycles of violence that undercut or hamper political negotiations and peace and reconciliation processes.
  • While Libya’s domestic laws provide a reasonably strong framework for pre- and post-release procedures, the laws are less clear or lacking altogether on how to handle the release process itself and how to ensure the safe return of detainees to their communities.
  • International law and standards may have limited applicability in Libya, as they often apply only to international conflicts rather than intra-state conflicts such as Libya’s.
  • Furthermore, international standards are generally concerned with the pre-release and post-release phases of detention, and there are very few guidelines concerning the release process itself.
  • There are numerous examples of safe release and reintegration programs that Libya can learn from, including Afghanistan’s framework for the release of Hezb-e Islami fighters, Northern Ireland’s multiagency partnership approach for releasing and reintegrating detainees following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and Timor-Leste’s community reconciliation program.

About the Report

This report examines the challenges Libya faces in ensuring the safety and security of sensitive detainees as they pass from the custodial care of prison authorities and are returned to their communities under the remit of police or other security agencies. It was supported by USIP’s Middle East & North Africa program with financial assistance from the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

About the Authors

Fiona Mangan is a consultant for USIP, research director at Justice + Security in Transitions, and a nonresident fellow at the University of South Carolina’s Rule of Law Collaborative. Lillian Dang served as senior program officer in USIP’s Afghanistan office from 2013 to 2015, and consults for USIP on justice and security issues. Nathaniel L. Wilson is USIP’s Libya country manager, where he leads programming on rule of law and local reconciliation issues.

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