The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is an authoritarian regime led since 1969 by Colonel Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi. In theory citizens rule the country through a pyramid of congresses, communes, and committees. In practice, however, Qadhafi and his inner circle monopolize political power. The government’s human rights record remained poor. An extensive security services network, lack of an independent judiciary, and rigid government control of the media stifled political reform and denied citizens some basic civil liberties. Security forces operated without judicial restraint; they tortured and detained individuals without formal charges and held some detainees incommunicado, often without charge or trial. Corruption and impunity were widespread. Government control of the media, prohibitions on the establishment of independent human rights organizations, and a continued ban on political parties precluded freedom of speech or assembly. The government often failed to promote internationally recognized worker rights and to protect foreign workers from discrimination.
To promote democratic principles, the United States focuses on fostering a meaningful, multifaceted relationship with the government that seeks to address human rights and democracy concerns. In June 2006 the secretary of state rescinded Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and a country not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, enabling the U.S. government to begin rebuilding a relationship with the country after 25 years of political and cultural isolation. Top U.S. priorities include continuing to develop a dialogue through diplomatic engagement and high-level visits, strengthening working relationships with key government officials to address human rights and democracy concerns, and promoting greater public participation in political life through cultural and educational exchanges that provide exposure to alternative political models, ideas, and principles. While restrictive laws and a lack of independent NGOs impede the embassy’s efforts to coordinate its democracy promotion strategy with NGOs, the U.S. government is working to identify opportunities to develop civil society organizations.
The U.S. government engages in regular diplomatic outreach with the government aimed at promoting greater understanding of political processes, judicial independence, respect for the rule of law, and independent media. In 2007 a series of high-level U.S. officials, including the deputy secretary of state and the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, visited the country to discuss political processes. In addition, in 2007 the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs visited the country to initiate discussions with the government about U.S. programs focused on education and economic reform.
While bilateral relations continue to be narrowly circumscribed after 25 years of isolation, consistent U.S. outreach to the government and to semiofficial civil society groups has slowly expanded the relationship to include a political component. Since the government prohibits the establishment of truly independent NGOs, U.S. efforts center on identifying and supporting nascent civil society individuals and organizations that may develop into NGOs. U.S. officials, including the chief of mission, meet regularly with representatives of local semiofficial organizations to discuss political processes and press freedom. In addition, the chief of mission discusses human rights concerns with both the government and semiofficial local organizations.
The U.S. government aims to empower citizens to play a more active role in governance and to secure basic civil liberties for all citizens, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. U.S. officials, for the first time since reestablishing relations, made the significant step of returning to the country’s universities and traveling to Benghazi, Ghariyan, and Ghadames to speak with student groups about educational opportunities and exchange programs and to bolster cultural understanding, despite some opposition. In addition, the U.S. government continues to sponsor a number of local participants to travel to the United States for International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLPs) focused on student leadership and civic responsibility, judicial independence and reform, and investigative journalism. In 2007 the U.S. government sent a prominent law professor and anticorruption activist from a local university to the United States for an IVLP addressing the rule of law and questions of judicial reform. To support the development of professional, independent media, in 2007 the United States sent an investigative journalist to the United States to study investigative journalism techniques. In addition, in 2007 three student leaders participated in a program designed to cultivate civic awareness and leadership skills in future political leaders.
The United States engages diplomatically in support of religious freedom and antitrafficking efforts. U.S. officials meet regularly with a government-sponsored university dedicated to promoting antiextremist Islam in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. U.S. officials also meet regularly with representatives of minority religions, including the Anglican, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox communities operating in the country. To promote the antitrafficking agenda, U.S. officials lobbied the government to establish a working group aimed at improving information-sharing among various government entities responsible for prosecution of traffickers and victim protection.
Several U.S. exchange programs brought Libyans to the United States to learn about the rights of women, religious freedom, and antitrafficking in persons. The director of the Islamic Studies department at a prominent Libyan university participated in an IVLP focused on promoting interfaith dialogue. A researcher with a local think tank with a mandate to propose economic reforms traveled to the United States for a program on women as business leaders. In 2007 a Libyan student of international development went to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship to study illegal and forced migration, while a project manager in the local office of an international organization participated in an IVLP aimed at combating trafficking in persons.