Amnesty International today called on the Libyan authorities to release immediately four International Criminal Court (ICC) staff who were detained on 7 June after visiting Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s defence counsel Melinda Taylor, interpreter Helen Assaf and two senior Registry representatives, Esteban Peralta Losilla and Alexander Khodakov had been granted permission by the Libyan authorities to visit him. This visit by his lawyer was to inform him of current proceedings in the ICC’s case against him and to take his instructions.

Since his capture in November 2011, Libya has refused to surrender Saif al-Islam to the ICC insisting that he be prosecuted in the national courts. He has reportedly been held in isolation in secret locations without access to national courts or effective access to a lawyer. Saif al-Islam has also been precluded from communicating with his family. The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber is currently considering a formal challenge by the Libyan government against the ICC’s jurisdiction over the case.

Reports indicate that the staff were detained after Melinda Taylor’s meeting with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was monitored. She and her client were searched in violation of his right to communicate freely and in confidence with his lawyer. The authorities allege that they discovered a “coded message” from Mohammed Ismail, a former member of the al-Gaddafi regime who is wanted by the Libyan authorities. They claim the message amounts to espionage or violations of Libya’s national security.

All four ICC staff members have immunity which means that they must not be arrested in the course of performing their duties. These immunities are essential for ICC staff to conduct their work without hindrance. They must therefore be released immediately.

Amnesty International considers the detentions to be an attack against Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s rights and an attempt to undermine the independence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is seeking to deliver justice to Libyan victims. The detention of the delegation strongly indicates the purpose is to intimidate anyone who is seeking to protect the defendant's rights. The four staff members have been moved to a jail in the mountain town of Zintan and are being detained on a 45 day detention order whilst the authorities carry out investigations.

If the Libyan government has concerns about the conduct of ICC staff it should follow the appropriate procedures. In particular, the ICC’s Code for Conduct for Counsel allows states to make complaints that will be considered by an independent commissioner.

Despite a joint ICC and diplomatic delegation being allowed to visit the detainees on 12 June, Amnesty International has serious concerns for their safety. Pending their release, the organisation calls on the Libyan authorities to ensure that their rights are respected. This includes allowing unrestricted consular access and ensuring that the ICC staff can communicate freely with their families and the ICC.

Throughout Libya and in Zintan thousands of suspected al-Gaddafi loyalists are currently being detained by armed militias outside the framework of the law. The vast majority have not been officially charged with any crime and have no access to lawyers. Beatings are endemic in detention centres across Libya particularly upon arrest, in the first days of detention, and during interrogations. Many detainees told Amnesty International that they signed and/or thumb-printed “confessions” under torture or duress. To the best knowledge of Amnesty International, no members of armed militias have been brought to justice for torturing, killing or otherwise abusing detainees, perpetuating a climate of impunity.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the National Transitional Council to address these serious human rights violations by:

  • Ending arbitrary detentions immediately, and ensure that arrests are only carried out by security forces authorised by law and that no one is deprived of their liberty except in accordance with procedures and on grounds prescribed by law. All laws in this regard should comply with Libya’s obligations under international law.
  • Ensuring that all those detained are given an opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or are released.
  • Ordering the closure of all unofficial places of detention and place all detention facilities under the oversight of the General Prosecution and the Ministry of Justice, with provision for independent monitoring.
  • Notifying detainees’ families of where they are detained and ensure that all those detained have access to families and lawyers.
  • Ensuring that prompt investigations are conducted into all alleged or suspected cases of torture and other ill-treatment, and deaths in custody. Investigations should be impartial and independent, and conducted by individuals with expertise in investigating such cases; if necessary, international assistance should be sought.
  • Ensuring that “confessions” extracted under torture or duress are not used as evidence in trial proceedings.
  • Where there is credible evidence charges should be brought against the detainee and the detainee should be afforded all due process and fair trial protections.
  • Where there is no credible evidence, the detainee should be released.