Briefing notes on Libya/torture in detention, Dominican Republic, Serbia/LGBT parade and Turkey reforms

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 1 October 2013
1) Libya/torture in detention
2) Dominican Republic
3) Serbia/LGBT parade
4) Turkey reforms

1) Libya/torture in detention

The United Nations is today issuing a report about torture and ill-treatment, in some cases leading to death, of detainees in Libya. We recommend swift action to transfer detainees held by armed brigades to effective State control and renewed efforts to build the capacity of the criminal justice system.

Issued jointly by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the report indicates that torture is widespread and most frequent immediately after arrest and during the first days of interrogation to extract confessions and other information. Detainees are usually held without access to lawyers and with only occasional, if any, access to families. The vast majority of the estimated 8,000 conflict-related detainees are also being held without due process.

The report records 27 cases of death in custody, where significant information suggests that torture was the cause of death, since late 2011. The UN also received information on several other such cases during this period but was not able to fully document them. Eleven (11) deaths in custody detailed in the report took place in 2013 in detention centres that are under the nominal authority of the Government but, in effect, are run by armed brigades which emerged during the 2011 revolution. In some cases, members of the armed brigades freely admitted, and even tried to justify, the physical abuse of detainees.

The report states that the violations continued despite the Government’s efforts. It adds that prolonged detention and interrogation at the hands of armed brigades without experience or training in the handling of detainees or conducting criminal investigations, as well as the lack of effective judicial oversight, create an environment conducive to torture or other ill-treatment. On the other hand, when detention facilities have been handed over to trained officers of the Judicial Police, there have been marked improvements in the condition and treatment of detainees.

In the report, the UN notes that Libyan authorities are committed, at the highest level, to securing the handover of detainees to the State, to ending torture, and to ensuring the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. Since 2012, the Government has sought to bring armed brigades involved in detentions under the official authority of the State by affiliating them to specific ministries, even though in many cases the armed brigades have retained actual control of the detention centres. In April 2013, Libya also adopted a law criminalizing torture, enforced disappearances and discrimination, providing for terms of imprisonment ranging from five years to life, and in September 2013 Libya adopted a new law on transitional justice which requires conflict-related detainees to be screened within 90 days.

The UN recommends that Libyan authorities and the armed brigades accelerate the process of handing over detainees to the effective control of State authorities, and in the meantime take measures to protect detainees against torture or other ill-treatment. The UN further recommends that Libyan authorities adopt a strategy to screen and, where appropriate, release or charge and prosecute conflict-related detainees, in implementation of the Law on Transitional Justice. They should also build the capacity of the criminal justice system to safeguard detainees against any form of abuse and end impunity for on-going violations.

The report is based on information gathered first-hand during UNSMIL’s visits to nearly 30 detention centres over two years, including information from detainees, family members, officials and civil society, as well as documentation such as medical reports. UNSMIL has a mandate of assisting Libyans in promoting human rights, including through supporting Libyan efforts against arbitrary detention and torture, by monitoring abuses in detention centres, advocating for remedial action, advising on judicial reform and building the capacity of Libya’s corrections system.

2) Dominican Republic

We are extremely concerned that a ruling of the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality, virtually all of them of Haitian descent, and have a very negative impact on their other rights.

The Court ruled on 26 September that the children of undocumented migrants who have been in the Dominican Republic and registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929, cannot have Dominican nationality as their parents are considered to be “in transit”. Until 2010, the Dominican Republic had followed the principle of automatically bestowing citizenship to anyone born on its soil. But in 2010, a new constitution stated that citizenship would be granted only to those born on Dominican soil to at least one parent of Dominican blood or whose foreign parents are legal residents.

The decision, which cannot be appealed, gives the Central Electoral Board one year to elaborate a list of people to be excluded from citizenship, and it outlines a number of steps leading to the elaboration of a regularization plan for undocumented migrants. The decision could have disastrous implications for people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, leading such individuals in a state of constitutional limbo and potentially leaving tens of thousands of them stateless and without access to basic services for which identity documents are required.

We urge the Dominican Government to take all necessary measures to ensure that Dominican citizens of Haitian origin are not deprived of their right to nationality in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations.

3) Serbia/LGBT parade

We regret that the Serbian authorities decided to ban all public gatherings scheduled for last Saturday, 28 September, including the pride parade for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

According to the authorities, the decision was based on security assessments. This is the third time in a row that the pride parade has been banned in Belgrade for the same reason. In 2010, the last time the event was held, it was marked with violence and attacks, including by individuals who threw bottles and stones at the crowd and committed acts of vandalism.

We would like to recall that the LGBT persons should be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, a point emphasised by the High Commissioner during her official mission to Serbia in June this year.

The State has an obligation to take the necessary security measures to enable people to exercise their rights. Responding to violent attacks against a vulnerable community, such as LGBT, by banning them from peacefully gathering and expressing themselves further violates their fundamental human rights, and rewards their attackers.

We would like to remind the authorities that during her visit in June 2013, the High Commissioner received assurances from the authorities, including President Nikolic, that the Pride Parade would be held this year. We therefore urge the Serbian authorities to ensure the adequate protection of the LGBT community so that they are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly before the end of the year.

4) Turkey reforms

We welcome the announcement of the democracy package by Prime Minister Erdogan. We regard it as a positive step that many long-standing issues concerning the use of the Kurdish language are beginning to be addressed. The existing restrictions have been addressed by several international human rights mechanisms, including most recently the Human Rights Committee (2012) which expressed concerns about the Kurds' right to enjoy their own culture and use their own language. It is encouraging that the Government is envisaging the possibility of lowering the 10 per cent electoral threshold, which had long been seen as an obstacle to political participation of the Kurds and other groups.


For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 /, Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 /

UN Human Rights, follow us on social media:

Watch “20 years of human rights - the road ahead”: