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June 19 2010 | LIBYA


Death penalty falls heavily on Niger migrants

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Libya: Death Penalty Falls Heavily on Niger Migrants

Laure Pichegru - 18 June 2010

The Libyan government handed over 276 prisoners to authorities from neighbouring Niger on Jun. 17. But none of the dozen or more Nigeriens facing the death sentence in Libya were among them.

According to news reports, those released had been convicted of minor offences like theft or were awaiting trial.

A few weeks earlier, on May 30, 18 people who had been convicted of the more serious charge of premeditated murder were executed by Libyan authorities, according to the Libyan newspaper Quryna. Details were not made public, but a number of foreign nationals - including Chadians, Nigerians and Egyptians - are believed to have been among them.

Moustapha Kadi, coordinator of Niger's Collective of Organisations for Human Rights and Democracy (known by its French acronym, CODDHD), told IPS three Niger citizens were also among those executed - Sani Maïdouka, from the south-central region of Maradi, and Saïdou Mohamed and Harouna Dangoda, from Tahoua in the west of Niger.

"We have asked the Libyan emissary Professor Rajab Mita Budabbus, who was in Niamey (the Nigerien capital) to meet the head of state, Salou Djibo, to inform the Libyan authorities that they must make arrangements to repatriate the bodies of these three, as well as compensate their families," said Kadi.

According to CODDHD, nine Nigeriens were executed in Libya in 2009, and 14 others are on death row in their northern neighbour.

Migrants at risk

Thousands of migrants cross the Sahara every year to Libya, in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean to Italy. The Libyan government has recently moved strongly against migrants and the human traffickers who prey on them, sharply reducing the numbers of people who arrive en route to Europe.

On Jun. 8, Libya ordered the U.N. High Commission for Refugees to close its offices in the capital, Tripoli. UNHCR has registered around 9,000 refugees in Libya, including 3,700 asylum seekers.

Many of these are people whose boats have been intercepted at sea by the Italian navy and sent into Libyan waters. Without the UNHCR presence, the migrant population will be left even more vulnerable.

Amnesty International was sharply critical of the May executions, saying that foreign nationals in particular may be convicted without having access to a fair trial.

"There are a certain number of cases where diplomatic representatives of arrested people, were not notified. So they were not able to provide appropriate assistance to them," said Diana Eltahawy, North Africa researcher for Amnesty International.

Eltahawy told IPS that some foreigners did not meet with their lawyers until their court appearances, making it impossible to prepare a proper defence. She added that confessions extracted under torture or ill treatment are commonly used as evidence to convict individuals in capital cases in Libya.

Libyan nationals also face unfair trials, Eltahawy says, but foreigners are at a greater disadvantage because they often cannot speak Arabic. "There are not always translation services available. We had some cases where people were brought to court and they did not know what charges they faced."

Stays of execution

Once sentenced, foreign nationals are also more likely to actually be executed because they are unable to negotiate with the family of the victim. Under Libyan law, it is the possible to commute a death penalty into a life imprisonment if the family of the victim agrees to pardon the murderer in exchange for a sum of money.

"Foreign nationals do not have a family network in the country to rely on, who could negotiate with the family of the victim. Moreover, they do not have enough money to pay the amount a victim's family would ask," Eltahawy told IPS.

Heba Morayes, a researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch in Cairo, emphasises that for non-Arabs, it is difficult to conduct these negotiations: "Foreign nationals need a Libyan intermediary to help them negotiate."

An Egyptian NGO, the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP), helps Egyptians facing the death penalty to complete the reconciliation procedures between the families of victims and the convicted persons

"We have succeeded several times in postponing the implementation of sentences and also in commuting the sentence to life imprisonment in some cases. However there are not enough financialresources to provide 'blood money'," ACIJLP director Nasser Amin told IPS, saying that the procedures are long and complicated.

Recently, an Egyptian was executed while the negotiation procedure was going on: the Libyan government refused to recognise the authenticity of the pardon signed by the family of the victim.

Limited information

Amnesty International has asked the Libyan authorities to release official statistics about people facing death penalty and others in prison, but received no response. "There is a lack of transparency: a figure of 200 people on death row was released, but there was no breakdown about their different nationalities," said Eltahawy.

Amnesty has also been unable to determine the living conditions for foreign nationals in Libya's prisons, she said: "We have not visited the two prisons where the 18 executed people had been held. But according to reports, the conditions are not as bad there, as in other sites such as detention centres," she said.

The welfare of its expatriate citizens was one of the motivations behind a judicial cooperation accord between the Nigerien government and Libya on Jun. 6, but officials in Niamey declined to comment on how this might enable Niger to prevent further executions of its citizens. Justice ministry officials referred IPS to an official communiqué which explained only that the agreement will permit cooperation on matters of inquiry, arraignment, testimony, and asset seizure.

Amnesty presented a memorandum detailing human rights concerns to the Libyan authorities in mid-April. On Jun. 25, the contents of the note will be made public.

"Particularly now that Libya is a member of the (U.N.) Human Rights Council, it has additional responsibility regarding human rights," said Eltahawy.

Between the May executions and release of nearly 300 to Niger, the hundreds on death row in Libya are suspended between fear and hope that the government in Tripoli will respect its obligations to ensure justice for all.

Souleymane Maazou in Niamey contributed to this report.

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