Image Source: Al Jazeera
September 2, 2016
REGION: Middle East and North Africa

In Prisons and Detention in Libya, Fiona Mangan and Rebecca Murray report findings on prison conditions in Libya from site visits they conducted in 2012 and again in 2015-16. Mangan and Murray conclude that the Libyan prison system is in “chaos.” Libyan prisons are understaffed, insecure, and riddled with structural damage, and do not adequately account for prisoner well-being. The authors make several recommendations to address these specific problems. Mangan and Murray also recommend that a legitimate unified government be established and that international actors place pressure on the Libyan government to reform governance, rule of law, and in turn, prisons.

Two opposing forces control Libya: a UN negotiated unity government and several armed groups. The Ministry of Justice has tasked the Judicial Police to run its prisons. Judicial Police are also divided along conflict lines, resulting in the need to build a second headquarters to divide the rival groups. The two headquarters claim to have open communication, but the organizational duties are split, resulting in delays and sometimes the failure to deliver prison staff salaries. To complicate matters further, Libyan resources are strained. International assistance has been suspended due to the political conflict and oil exportation has plummeted, resulting in the delay of prison reforms.

Prison facilities other than those run by the judicial police, exist in Libya. The Interior Ministry’s Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), with the help of armed groups, also runs detention facilities to hold migrants and refugees who try to cross the desert and Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. Armed groups also run their own detention facilities. These judicial facilities are outside the state’s criminal justice system. The number of these extrajudicial detention facilities have increased since the 2014 conflict. Mangan and Murray’s 2012 and 2015-16 assessments revealed that several areas of prison life, including staffing issues, safety and security, and prisoner well-being, need reform. A discussion of these findings is below.

Staffing Issues: In the 2012 assessment of prisons, the ratio of guards to prisoners varied among the different prison facilities. For example, in one prison facility there was 1 guard to every 19 prisoners. At another, there were more than 10 guards per prisoner. This large ratio of guards to prisoners is due to revolutionary armed groups integrating themselves into the Judicial Police. As a result of revolutionary integration, a military command control and hierarchy was also integrated among the guards in prisons. However, little uniformity among ranking structures existed across the Judicial Police and as a result, staff discipline and training suffered. In the spring and summer of 2015, Libya reformed their national ID numbers to stop individuals who were receiving salaries for multiple jobs. This reform caused a decrease in staffing. This staffing decrease was positive because it rid the prison system of revolutionary elements, but also negative because it reduced the number of medical staff in prisons.

Security and Safety: Prisons have been forced to evacuate and transfer inmates due to their proximity to armed conflict lines. These conflicts cause severe structural damage to the prisons and contribute to prisoner escape. In some instances, guards have opened all cell doors to save prisoners’ lives, and have not succeeded in recapturing all of the inmates that were released. Armed groups target prisons, and prisoners stage uprisings in conjunction with the armed attacks to escape. Additionally, prison transfers are dangerous. Convoys are subject to attack by armed groups. This creates difficulty in transferring prisoners to hospitals and to the courthouse for their trials or hearings.

Due Process: Currently there are many conflict-related detainees being held in Libya. These detainees are not held by the Judicial Police, but rather outside the criminal justice system, and many do not have any formal charges against them. Many of these detainees have been held since the 2011 revolution.

Prisoners who are held within Judicial Police prisons face due process problems, as well. Their criminal cases are not heard in a timely manner due to a case-processing backlog. Many prisoners have spent more time in pretrial detention than they would after being sentenced.

Prison Life and Prisoner Well-Being: Mangan and Murray found the most significant problems impacting prisoner well-being relate to water and sanitation. Sewage and waste removal concerns stem mostly from infrastructure unable to handle the amount of people in prisons. In some prisons, the sewage system is not connected to the main city system and overflows in the prison. In others, sewage is in close proximity to the kitchen. Water is also an issue in some prisons, which causes prisons to rely on bottled water or water reserve tanks, resulting in a shortage of water in at least five prisons included in the assessment.

Additionally, prisons are overcrowded, negatively impacting all aspects of prisoner care, including the strain on the sewage and wastewater system. Prisoners in Libya have high rates of skin and chest infections, which is also indicative of overcrowding. Ambulances do not exist in all facilities, leaving guards to use their own private vehicles. As previously mentioned, prisoner transfers are subject to armed conflict hijacking, resulting in much difficulty getting prisoners to hospitals.

In some prison facilities, prisoners are kept in their cells all day, even though the facility has green space and fields. Prisoners in some prisons are able to get jobs sewing uniforms or working in the kitchen, but in others they are not.

Vulnerable Populations:

Women: There are three dedicated prison facilities for women in Libya. At one facility, women are not fully segregated from the male prison population, but are given their own cells. Additionally, there are a not enough female guards to guard the women’s prisons.

The Elderly: This population is generally regarded as those over age 60. Libya has a high proportion of older prisoners, most of whom are conflict-related detainees who have been imprisoned since 2011. Mangan and Murray point out that if Libyan prisoners continue to serve long sentences, there will continue to be a disproportionate number of elderly in prisons.

Juveniles: A juvenile is a person under age 18. Mangan and Murray’s assessment found that juveniles are confined in adult prisons. This is in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Libya is a party. Furthermore, juveniles are only to be imprisoned as a punishment of last resort. However, Mangan and Murray describe an instance of an imprisoned female teenager awaiting 40 lashes for a moral crime.

Foreign Nationals: Foreign nationals are a vulnerable population because they face language and cultural barriers that may result in their inability to gain legal access or be informed of their rights. Mangan and Murray also found that foreign nationals, particularly sub-Saharan African detainees, were held in their own cells that were significantly more cramped than those of Libyan prisoners. Illegal migrants are held in the Ministry of Interior DCIM detention facilities.


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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