Human rights organisations have condemned the reported execution by firing-squad of some 18 people, many of them foreign nationals, in Libya this past weekend.
Cerene, a newspaper closely affiliated with Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, reported that the 18, including nationals of Chad, Egypt and Nigeria, were executed after being convicted of premeditated murder.
“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, as the ultimate form of cruel and inhuman punishment and a violation of the right to life,”, said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
He added: “In the case of Libya, we fear that death sentences are handed down after proceedings which fail to satisfy international standards for fair trial.”
Fourteen people were executed in the capital, Tripoli, Cerene reported, while the four other executions were carried out in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. Their identities have not been made public by the Libyan authorities.
More than 200 people are currently on death row in Libya, the Cerene report said. They are believed to include a large number of foreign nationals against whom the death penalty appears to be used disproportionately.
They are often not provided with interpretation or translation assistance during legal proceedings, which are conducted in Arabic, or access to their own government’s consular representatives.
Foreign nationals are also at a disadvantage compared to Libyans in seeking commutation of their death sentences because they generally have limited financial means and lack a family network in Libya that can assist them by negotiating with the family of their alleged victim.
In cases of qisas (retribution for murder) and diya (financial compensation or blood money), the murder victim’s next-of-kin may agree to pardon the person convicted and under sentence of death in return for financial compensation.
To date, the Libyan government has resisted moves towards the abolition of the death penalty. In December 2007 and 2008, Libya was among the minority of states that voted against successful UN General Assembly resolutions calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
“The Libyan authorities must declare a moratorium on executions and join the international trend towards abolition of the death penalty,” said Malcolm Smart. “They should also commute the sentences of all those on death row.”
“Last Sunday’s dreadful events should not be repeated. The authorities should reveal the identities of the 18 people who were executed and vow to desist from further executions.”
Amnesty International has urged the authorities to ensure that the most rigorous internationally-recognised standards for fair trial are respected, particularly in death penalty cases.
“It is unconscionable that people may still be sentenced to death and executed in Libya after trials which fail to meet the highest international standards,” commented Mr Smart.
Libyan courts continue to hand down death sentences, mostly for murder and drug-related offences, although the death penalty may also be imposed for a wide change of other offences, including the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association.
There are no official statistics available on the number of people sentenced to death and executed annually in Libya.
Amnesty International’s repeated requests for the Libyan authorities to share detailed information on the imposition of the death penalty have not yet been granted, the NGO observed.