Cablegate: Human Rights Dialogue Rebounds After Difficult Start
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DEPT FOR NEA/MAG, L (BOB HARRIS), DRL (KARI JOHNSTONE). DEPT PLEASE PASS TO NSC (SCOTT BUSBY) AND OVP (HERRO MUSTAFA). E.O. 12958: DECL: 9/17/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM LY
SUBJECT: HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE REBOUNDS AFTER DIFFICULT START REF: TRIPOLI 677 TRIPOLI 00000748 001.2 OF 005
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary: An interagency team led by Acting A/S for DRL Karen Stewart, and comprised of State, NSC, and OVP representatives, launched with Libyan counterparts a bilateral Human Rights Dialogue August 18 in Tripoli. Although a bizarre, last-minute Libyan delegation and agenda switch nearly scuttled the talks, FM Musa Kusa intervened to restore the original delegation and agenda, and personally launched the talks. In his opening remarks, Kusa acknowledged the GOL's need for U.S. technical assistance in a range of areas, including illegal immigration and upgrading the capacity of Libya's detention centers and prisons. Kusa and other GOL officials protested the critical comments about Libya contained within the annual Human Rights Report and noted their interest in setting the record straight on Libya's human rights situation within the context of the Human Rights Dialogue. Kusa stressed that the GOL viewed the human rights dialogue as part of a larger group of bilateral dialogues with the United States on a number of topics, including security, civil-nuclear cooperation, and political-military engagement; his emphasis on this point, coupled with last-minute Libyan changes to the joint statement (which resulted in agreement for no statement) hinted at a deal struck with hardliners to put the talks back on track only if they had a broader -- or no -- public focus. While we will not know how serious the Libyans are about these talks until we receive their feedback on the action plans in mid-October, we are hopeful that they could lead to some positive engagement in the areas of immigration, refugee issues, and prison conditions. End Summary.
2.(SBU) The U.S. delegation included Acting A/S for DRL Karen Stewart; Scott Busby, Director for Human Rights, National Security Council; Herro Mustafa, Senior Advisor for the Middle East and South Asia, Office of the Vice President; Robert K. Harris, Deputy Legal Advisor; Maggie Nardi, Director, Office of Maghreb Affairs, NEA Bureau; Kari Johnstone, Acting Director, Office of Near East and South Central Asia, DRL; Charge, and Pol/Econ Chief. The Libyan delegation that initiated the dialogue was led by FM Kusa and included Abdussalam al-Tumi, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission at the Ministry of Justice; Dr. Mohamed Salah al-Saghir, Head of the Department of International Law and Agreements at the MFA; Murad Hamim from the MFA's International Organizations Department; Hamid Ahmed Hdhiri, National Security Council; Abulqacem Gargum, Head of Judicial Police Service; Dr. Ramadhan Abdedayem, Head of the Department of Human Rights at the General People's Congress; Nasreddine Ageeli, MFA Legal Consultant on Human Rights; Mohamed el-Mahdi Hajaji, Secretary of the Department of Associations and Non-governmental Activities at the Ministry of Social Affairs; Brigadier Abdelmonem Ettunsi, Director of the Illegal Immigration Office at the Ministry of Public Security; and Dr. Ibrahim Abu Khzam of Al Fatah University. [Note: The MFA sent a diplomatic note August 26 formally listing the GOL delegation that included representatives that were not actually present at the talks, such as Dr. Ali al-Rishi, the Secretary of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs at the MFA (A/S-equivalent), and Mohamed Matari, Director of the Department of American Affairs at the MFA. Likewise, delegates who did attend the meeting were not included in the MFA's official participant list. University professor, Dr. Rajab Boudabbous was also listed as part of the official delegation. End note.]
DIALOGUE BEGINS WITH A FALSE START
3.(C) The U.S. interagency team led by Acting A/S for DRL Karen Stewart met with Libyan officials at 1030 local time August 18 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tripoli to initiate a bilateral Human Rights Dialogue. While the Libyan side initially responded positively to the concept of the dialogue and provided on August 17 a list of participants and an agenda that paralleled our proposed agenda, the actual GOL team for the morning session was led by a philosophy professor, a judge, and the Foreign Minister's interpreter, none of whom was included among the original delegation. [Note: The GOL told us originally that their delegation would be led by the Justice Minister but told us August 17 that the A/S-equivalent for consular issues would be the lead. End Note.]
4.(C) After introducing himself as "a professor, not a politician," noting that "politics is the art of tricks," philosophy professor Rajab Boudabbous attempted to open the bilateral Human Rights Dialogue with a lecture on human rights and the Libyan concept of democracy -- direct rule by the people or "jamahiriya." The U.S. delegation interrupted Boudabbous' lecture, halted the talks, and sought information about the TRIPOLI 00000748 002.2 OF 005 whereabouts of the named GOL delegation. Boudabbous refused to clarify what had happened and continued with his lecture as if he had been uninterrupted. The U.S. team withdrew from the lecture, and taking a few moments to regroup, the Charge discussed the situation with MFA Director of the Americas Office, Mohamed Matari. [Note: Charge attempted to contact A/S-equivalent for the Americas Department Ahmed Fituri, who did not answer his phone throughout the morning. End note.] Matari told the Charge that he would inform Foreign Minister Musa Kusa of the U.S. side's objections to the delegation and format of the dialogue. Charge conveyed the importance of the initiation of the dialogue, as previously agreed, to the bilateral relationship and future engagement, including at the upcoming UN General Assembly session.
5.(C) As the U.S. delegation was in the process of departing the MFA, FM Kusa arrived but deliberately ignored the Charge's attempt to discuss the issue with him. Shortly thereafter, Matari called to inform the Charge that FM Kusa would lead the dialogue himself at 1830 hours and that he would like to host a dinner for the team at 2100 hours, as previously scheduled. Kusa's staff later revised the schedule to begin at 1730 local time, "to ensure sufficient time for substantive discussions."
TAKE TWO: THE DIALOGUE FINALLY COMMENCES
6.(C) At 1730 local time, the U.S. delegation met an appropriate GOL interagency team, led by the Foreign Minister, at Libya's Foreign Ministry. Kusa opened the meeting by stressing the need for bilateral dialogue. He noted that he had heard about the U.S. delegation's response to the professor's viewpoint during the morning meeting, calling it an example of the "bad chemistry" that had plagued the relationship. Kusa portrayed the Libyan government as ready to continue a results-driven human rights dialogue based on mutual respect. He acknowledged that the GOL needs U.S. assistance to improve the human rights situation. Specifically, Kusa requested U.S. assistance to combat illegal immigration and trafficking-in-persons, to upgrade and build capacity in Libyan prisons, and to train police. Kusa said that he had requested EU assistance to tackle the illegal immigration problem, specifying that in a country of six million people, Libya had three million immigrants, most of whom were illegal. However, he said that the European governments did not agree to assist in combating the problem. With borders 6,000 km long, mostly along the desert, and poor neighboring countries, Libya "can do nothing" according to Kusa, to combat illegal immigration unilaterally. He described a dire situation in Libya, with increasing crime, disease, and other problems, as the result of illegal immigration. He said that one human rights organization (not specifying which one) had brought to his attention the existence of a trafficking-in-persons problem in Libya, which Kusa noted could only be identified and combated with foreign assistance.
7.(C) Kusa further noted that Libya needed to take advantage of U.S. experience to upgrade Libya's prisons and detention facilities. He said Libya needed training for police officers and wardens on how to deal with prisoners in a way that respects their human rights. Referring to a UK project to upgrade Libyan prisons and train police officers, Kusa explained that the UK had sent experts to work on the issue areas he specified but that Libya needed even more assistance than what the UK was able to provide.
8.(C) Kusa went on to discuss the method for evaluating human rights issues on both sides. He asked that the annual State Department Human Rights Report be a subject of discussion within the framework of the dialogue. Kusa referred to "fallacies" in the 2008 Human Rights Report on Libya, specifically recalling a section on the rights of women and the existence of political prisoners. On the first issue, he pointed to various facts proving that women are empowered in Libya - "at least 150 women work in the Foreign Ministry." Regarding political prisoners, he insisted that the "political prisoners" to which the report referred were actually fundamentalists with links to Al Qaeda, whom the GOL was trying to rehabilitate. He explained that the Libyan government was "stretching its hands" and "opening its heart" to dialogue and discussion for the sake of transparency and to correct the wrong information that the USG was reporting on the human rights situation in Libya.
9.(C) Acting A/S Stewart thanked Kusa for taking a personal interest in launching the dialogue, noting that the dialogue would be integral to broader bilateral efforts to expand TRIPOLI 00000748 003.2 OF 005 cooperation across several spheres, including political-military, economic, education, and culture. She noted that the USG was engaged in human rights dialogues with many countries throughout the world, as the U.S. Congress and American people expect, and that the U.S. delegation would welcome the opportunity to address Libya's needs for technical assistance in the areas outlined by Kusa. She explained that the human rights dialogue could be a model for engagement in other subject areas. NEA/MAG Office Director Maggie Nardi suggested that issue-specific working groups be designated to tackle each issue. Kusa expressed his agreement with the suggestions and emphasized the need for direct political dialogue in order to address "significant issues." He highlighted positive bilateral coordination on Darfur with USSES Gration, as well as the security and military engagement, which CODEL McCain had recently discussed with Muatassim and Muammar al-Qadhafi (reftel). Kusa went on to discuss his interest in broadening the framework for U.S.-Libyan relations in a number of areas, including combating fundamentalism. Acting A/S Stewart outlined our proposed framework for the dialogue with twice yearly senior-level meetings and working groups to advance progress in the interim on priority topics, including joint polices and projects involving multilateral institutions, prison conditions and management, migration and refugees, and specific human rights cases as they arise. FM Kusa declared his agreement with this general framework and asked the U.S. delegation to propose a work plan and timetable for discussing agenda items and actively addressing them.
LIBYAN DELEGATION ADDRESSES ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION, PRISONS, U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT
10.(C) Turning the floor to his delegation, Kusa said that a group of specialists had been gathered on the Libyan side for the purpose of the dialogue. Stating "I do not even know all of their names," Kusa introduced the delegates he recognized and excused himself from the meeting. During the remaining two hours of discussion, the Libyan delegates would not admit their government needed assistance in the areas outlined by Musa Kusa -- illegal immigration, trafficking in persons, prison upgrades, or police training. Instead they parsed terms and argued over definitions. Arguing that Libyan society and culture is misunderstood by the USG, Abdussalam el-Tumi, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission at the Ministry of Justice, maintained that neither "prisoners" nor "prisons" existed in Libya; rather, Libya has "detention facilities" designed to rehabilitate those "sons and brothers" who have gone astray. Tumi described a Libya-UK prison program by which the UK provides technical assistance and training to Libyan police officers and prison guards. He said that UK representatives had visited Libya's criminal detention facilities, photographed, and reported that detainees were treated in accordance with international human rights conventions. Tumi described the judicial process by which detainees are tried and sentenced, laws stipulating detainee rights, and the treatment of detainees in detention centers. Tumi eventually admitted that the GOL required assistance in the care of detainees -- specifically in the provision of medical care, vocational training, and social reintegration programs -- as well as in training police officers and upgrading and building capacity of prison facilities.
11.(C) Tumi asserted that trafficking-in-persons did not exist in Libya. Regarding the Human Rights Report, Tumi charged that it was not based on facts, was distanced from reality, and contained sections that were "laughable." He said that the Libyan government responded to individual charges of human rights abuse and that the issue areas outlined by Kusa - involving women's empowerment and female circumcision - were misconceived. He insisted that "human rights as a complete concept" does not exist anywhere in the world, and he expressed his hope that the dialogue would continue in order to eliminate all misunderstandings regarding the human rights situation of each nation.
12.(C) Dr. Mohamed Salah al-Saghir, Head of the Department of International Law and Agreements at the MFA, also expressed his support for the dialogue and highlighted the international conventions and agreements to which Libya was a party. As Libya was a party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Saghir said that the Human Rights Report must be wrong in its assertion that women in Libya face discrimination. He insisted that international conventions have supremacy over local law and are embodied within local laws as soon as the GOL signs them. TRIPOLI 00000748 004.2 OF 005
13.(C) AA/S Stewart assured the Libyan team that the Embassy would work with them to discuss their objections to the Human Rights Report over the next few months. NSC representative Scott Busby encouraged the GOL to become party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and to sign a Memorandum of Agreement with the UN High Commission on Refugees as important steps to address Libya's illegal immigration problem. Busby outlined areas where the U.S. might be able to provide assistance if Libya would provide assurance that it was complying with the international treaties and conventions it had signed involving refugees. Murad Hamim from Libya's International Organizations Department at the MFA responded that the GOL did not need to sign the 1951 Convention, as it was already a party to the 1969 Organization of African Union (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, which embodies many of the same principles as the 1951 and 1967 Convention and Protocol. He noted the GOL's surprise that the USG is not a party to the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Briefly addressing the issue of prisons, Harris noted that the United States and Libya both had responsibilities under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other treaties to provide proper treatment for persons under detention and that the United States looked forward to working with Libya in the context of the Human Rights Dialogue to share our experiences in efficient and humane management of detention facilities. In the time before the next meeting we looked forward to discussing next steps for progress and cooperation on this issue.
14.(C) Hamid Ahmed Hdhiri of Libya's NSC noted that the problem of illegal immigration flows into Libya require dramatic solutions to the root causes of the problem -- solutions that go beyond security. He called for U.S. assistance to combat the flow of illegal immigration from both security and economic perspectives. Hdhiri recognized the value of the 1951 and 1967 UN Refugee Conventions, but he expressed Libya's concern that the treaty could inflict harm on the country by encouraging additional immigrants to flow across the borders. He characterized Libya as a transit, rather than a source country, for illegal immigrants and called it a "burden" to the nation. He said that Libya was providing a humanitarian service by accepting protective responsibility for illegal immigrants who had been returned from European sea ports. Hdhiri noted that Muammar al-Qadhafi had suggested that an international conference convene to address the root causes of immigration from Sub-Saharan Africa, namely poverty and lack of opportunities for economic development.
15.(C) Finally, the Libyan delegation asserted that civil society does not exist in Libya because it is unnecessary. Representatives justified their statements by claiming that Libya is a homogenous, unified society in which one group does not dominate the other, and described civil society organizations as designed solely to address the needs of groups which are disadvantaged or discriminated against within a society. In response to the U.S. delegation's concern about the registration process for NGOs, one delegate explained that individuals could form issue-focused "charity groups" to address specific "causes," such as anti-smoking or environmental awareness campaigns. The U.S. delegation tried to explain that "charity groups" might count as "civil society" if only they were unrelated to the government (although currently no charity group can be formed outside of the umbrella of a quasi-governmental organization) and that contacts with similar groups in the United States and elsewhere would represent the kind of international communication and links we hope other civil society groups could enjoy, but the Libyan side did not appear to grasp our understanding of civil society.
16.(C) Both sides ended the discussion by agreeing that the U.S. would develop work plans on the agenda items and timelines for addressing them. They agreed that the next session of the dialogue would take place after six months and that the U.S. side would host. Although both sides had agreed before the dialogue began to the wording for a joint press statement announcing that the dialogue had been launched, the Libyan side changed the wording at the last minute to inaccurately describe the discussions as covering also security, military issues, and political issues and downplaying the human rights focus, and was unable to compromise with the U.S. delegation on a mutually-acceptable statement. Likewise the Libyan side reneged on a commitment to state publicly that the dialogue had been initiated, without explanation of its reasoning. Immediately after the meeting, the Libyan side hosted a dinner for the U.S. TRIPOLI 00000748 005.2 OF 005 delegation, during which substantive issues were not formally discussed. Musa Kusa was unable to attend, although two members of the original delegation identified by the GOL, Dr. Ali al-Rishi, the Secretary of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs at the MFA, and Mohamed Matari, Director of the Department of American Affairs at the MFA, as well as Libyan A/S-equivalent for the Americas Ahmed Fituri, did. WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? 17. (C) On the margins of the dinner, Fituri told us that he had been called to a meeting at 0200 local time the same day, to discuss the Human Rights Dialogue. xxxxxxxxxxxx The GOL's last-minute change to the proposed joint statement -- portraying the talks as more general in nature and focused on security and military issues as well as political issues -- likely was the deal struck by FM Kusa to get the talks back on track after our delegation walked out of the morning session. The GOL's readiness to drop the statement on the condition that both sides keep the talks quiet seems to indicate that Kusa and more Western-leaning officials needed to mollify hardliners who were concerned about the public perception of the talks. The GOL has kept its word and never publicized any aspect of the talks, although they had plenty of footage and still pictures from the meeting. 18. (C) Comment: In spite of the bizarre, fitful start, FM Kusa made it clear that he personally values the dialogue. His direct, personal involvement will be essential to the dialogue's successful continuation. And while the substance of the dialogue may have exposed some very wide gaps in our two countries' understanding of some key human rights concepts, it also revealed some common ground and seemingly genuine desire for engagement, particularly in the areas of refugees and migration, and prison conditions. We look forward to working with the interagency and the GOL to develop work plans and timelines for meaningful action on the agenda items. End Comment. NEXT STEPS 19. (SBU) As agreed with the Libyan delegation, State DRL will take the lead to draft and clear work plans and suggested action timelines for each of the specific human rights areas identified during the talks for submission to the Libyan MFA by mid-October. CRETZ