An interview with independent Libyan lawyers: The legal profession is the basis of the judiciary and justice
Interview conducted by journalist Hassan Al-Amin
At Mawazin Magazine, we endeavor to monitor challenges facing the right to access justice in Libya, and to bridge the gap in legal expertise and knowledge as a regular and reliable source for scholars and experts interested in Libya locally, regionally, and internationally. As part of that endeavor, our pilot issue features interviews with prominent lawyers and human rights defenders in Libya. In this interview, we will become acquainted with one of the most important and effective organizations in Libya in regards to strengthening the rule of law, defending judicial independence and impartiality, and disseminating human rights principles throughout the Libyan judiciary.
Mawazin Magazine contacted Mr. Aqila Luqm, member of the Management Committee of the Libyan Judges Organization, and asked him a number of questions. We are grateful to Mr. Luqm for his answers to these questions.
“Establishing the organization was an intuitive response to the change Libya witnessed after 2011, and to the openness of civil society.”
The Libyan Judges Organization is an independent civilian nongovernmental organization, neutral to any reference of political authority or religion. The organization does not engage in political activity beyond that residing within the scope of its core objectives, which are to strengthen the rule of law, defend judicial independence and impartiality, and disseminate human rights principles.
Establishing the organization was an intuitive response to the change Libya witnessed after 2011, and to the openness of civil society. The organization was thus founded on 16 April 2012 by a group of judges and members of the public prosecution who were striving to achieve unequivocal independence of the judiciary from any authority, and to elevate Libya’s judicial system to international standards.
The most important phase of the Libyan Judges Organization was its initial establishment. The concept itself was original; in Libya there was no presence of any established independent entity to defend the judiciary. At the same time, the organization’s founding and the launch of its activities coincided with multiple challenges, such as the proliferation of weapons and conflicts throughout the country between militias of varying allegiances. Some of these militias directly targeted the judiciary, which undermined the organization’s output especially after a number of judges and prosecutors were forcibly disappeared and assassinated. The armed conflict afflicted more than the organization; it created instability and insecurity for members of the judiciary and the prosecution, who faced displacement to scattered areas or left the country in fear of threats.
The most difficult challenge was introducing the concept of a non-governmental organization to members of the Supreme Judicial Council, and for them to accept it. Despite the grim circumstances and the plethora of hardships following its establishment, the organization succeeded in creating a relatively new environment in which the capacities of members of the judiciary and the public prosecution were developed and fostered. The organization cooperated with local, regional, and international organizations, and implemented several training programs for judicial and prosecutorial members, while engaging in dialogue on an array of legal issues.
Nevertheless, the organization’s activity began to noticeably decline in 2015, for many reasons attributable to the oversight of its work by the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, security services, and militias. This led to a reduced scope of participation in the organization’s activities, due to fear for the safety of its members.
Security challenges and their impact on the work flow of courts and prosecutions
Security challenges played a major role in obstructing the law enforcement process. Militias and political factions controlled most state institutions, afflicting the work of the judiciary and diminishing the authority of courts and prosecutions. The role and effectiveness of the official security services declined in the face of the proliferation and dominance of armed groups. This also diminished the role of the public prosecution and the judiciary. The judiciary was left powerless, without the support of other institutions in executing its decisions. Judicial authority was lost amid the rise of these groups and their ability to effectively control many vital institutions in the country, including prisons and detention sites.
“Despite the grim circumstances and the plethora of challenges following its establishment, the organization succeeded in creating a relatively new environment in which the capacities of members of the judiciary and the prosecution were developed and fostered.”
“Security challenges played a major role in obstructing the law enforcement process. Militias and political factions controlled most state institutions, afflicting the work of the judiciary and diminishing the powers of courts and prosecutions.”
Obstacles facing the judiciary in the oversight of detention centers
The situation of prisons and detention sites in Libya is very problematic, with a number of them controlled by illegal militias. Judges have lost their access to places of detention. When a court verdict freeing or releasing detainees has been issued, even agencies claiming their legality and loyalty to the state can refrain from implementing the release orders, including those issued by the Attorney General.
In addition, there are clandestine detention sites neither known nor controlled by the judiciary. This is common knowledge to which all in Libya are privy. Official statements confirming the presence of secret places of detention have been issued by successive governing authorities. Meanwhile, courts and prosecution offices have been directly targeted on several occasions, thus exposing members of the judiciary and the public prosecution office to risk at all times. Other judicial entities and legal service offices face the same risks.
What is the role of the organization in the transitional period, elections, criminal justice, and judicial independence?
Currently and in reality, the organization has no role, due to the multiplicity of conflicting parties in the country. The organization’s activities under current circumstances pose a risk of conflicting with the dominant party, which may lead to threats against its members of assassination or abduction, or punishment by the Supreme Council of the Judiciary. That being said, the organization continues to work on documenting violations committed against the judicial authorities, whether individuals or institutions.