By Ashraf Abdul-Wahab.
Tripoli, 7 September:
As the interim government prepares to transfer power to its successor in the next few days, Justice Minister Ali Ashour Ehmida has spoken to the Libya Herald about what he believes he has achieved during his term in office.
Over the course of a wide-ranging interview, Ehmida said that his ministry had successfully negotiated and implemented the transfer of large numbers of detainees from militia to Ministry of Justice control; begun the trials process of Qaddafi-era figures; and prepared many legislative bills that were drafted and submitted to the National Transitional Council for approval.
He also said that the ministry had expended considerable time and resources repairing and maintaining courts and other judicial buildings, many of which were damaged, vandalised or even burned down during the revolution.
The training of new employees within the Ministry of Justice, and the judicial system more broadly, had also been a focus, Ehmida said.
The minister also took the opportunity to explain some of the work that had been ongoing to entrench the independence of the judicial system as well as to clean it of tainted former regime associates and corrupt practices.
He also spoke of his negotiatons with a number of foreign countries over the extradition of high-profile Qaddafi-era personnel, some of which were successful, and some of which are ongoing.
Libya negotiated the extradition of former prime minister Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi in June, and the extradition of former spy-chief Abduallah Al-Senussi from Mauritania on Wedensday.
Finally, Ehmida answered questions regarding a formal complaint submitted by a member of the Supreme Security Committee following a reported assault at the hands of a private security guard in the employ of Mahmoud Jibril, as well as the latest developments in the ongoing investigation into the murder of the British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher in London in 1984.
On the transfer of detainees, Ehmida began by admitting negotiations with the militia had not always been easy.
“As you know, the thurwar were very adamant about keeping detainees under their supervision, but after close extensive negotiations and good cooperation between us, we managed to transfer may of the detainees from their control”, the minister said.
“We have now placed them in prisons under the control of the judicial police and the ministry of justice”.
Ehmida added that the ministry had been able to begin the trials process of a number of detainees, including former regime associates:
“The Ministry of Justice has now begun the trials of former regime members detained in prisons under our control, with trials having been held in Tripoli, Zawiya, Misrata and Benghazi.
“Some of these trials are still underway, some judgments have been passed and some cases are still in the investigation stage.
Asked how many regime associates had now been sentenced, however, the minister was not able to give an exact number.
Ehmida further admitted that work was made more difficult by continued logistical impediments and a lack of trained staff.
“During my time in office, the Ministry of Justice has been carrying out maintenance work on all courts and other judicial buildings because, as you probably know, the majority of them were damaged, vandalised, ransacked or burned down by the tyrant’s brigades during the uprising.
“We all know that revolutions throughout the world start from in front of courts and prosecution buildings, because people find security there. As a result, however, these places were targeted and thus got burned and destroyed”, the minster continued.
“Libya has seven courts of appeal. As such, we set up seven specialised committees with responsibility for maintaining these buildings, as well as taking up the task of re-equipping and reactivating the judicial system more broadly, and resuming the courts’ work”.
Throughout this period, Ehmida said that the Ministry of Justice had worked hard on drafting and preparing laws for consideration by the NTC, before it handed power to the National Congress on 8 August this year.
“The Ministry of Justice performed many duties within its specialisation, including the preparation and submission of draft laws to the NTC through a committee established by the Ministry of Justice.
“Many legislative bills were drafted and referred to the NTC for approval.
“We also made formal requests to many countries for the extradition of former regime associates in order to stand trial in Libya before a Libyan judiciary and court. We gave our assurances that such trials would be fair, transparent, and in accordance with both Libyan law as well as international law and international standards.
“We have also given our assurances to these countries that anyone transferred to Libya will receive good treatment both in prison and during their trial. As you have seen, trials have been broadcasted across various media outlets, and they have been transparent, with the accused afforded the opportunity to defend themselves, with defence lawyers acting on their behalf allowed to argue their case without any objections from the court or any other entity.
“We seek to build a state of law and order, justice and democracy.
Ehmida also took the opportunity to explain in more detail the workings of the judicial system in Libya, and what efforts have been made to guarantee its independence.
“After the 17 February revolution, the NTC began the process of separating the legislative, executive and judicial powers in Libya. A Supreme Judicial Council was formed under the amendment of Law No.4, which made the judicial system technically separated from the Ministry of Justice.
“This entrenchment of the separation of powers helps guarantee the independence of the judicial system. We now have a Supreme Judicial Council, presided over by the head of the Supreme Court, with the attorney general as his deputy and the heads of the appeal courts constituting the other members of this council.
These individuals are specialists in developing and cleansing the judicial system. The Supreme Judicial Council has formed a committee, known as the Judiciary Reform Committee, which has been tasked with laying down the conditions and rules governing those taking over the work of the judiciary.
“The legislature will issue a law called the “Judiciary Reform Act”. Based on this law, qualified people will be chosen to be members of the judiciary, enabling the system to be cleansed of former regime associates and freed from corruption”.
The minister also took the opportunity to respond to allegations that a member of the Supreme Security Committee was assaulted by a private security guard in the employ of the former interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril. The SSC member was reportedly taken to hospital and is said to have filed a formal complaint following the incident.
The question was asked as to whether this complaint would be followed up or dropped, given that Jibril is a high-profile personality who some said would consequently not be questioned.
“As I said earlier, we, in the new modern state – the state of law – always strive to establish justice and transparency. This is our principle, any complaint submitted to the Public Prosecution or the Justice Department will not be neglected.
“We will not cover anyone or party; we work by the principle of neutrality, fairness and transparency. Any complaint received by will not be ignored and will not be dealt with discreetly.”
Finally, Ehmida was asked about the latest developments regarding the case of the British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, murdered outside the Libyan embassy in London by an unknown gunman in 1984.
“The killing of Yvonne fletcher is an old issue. There has been an agreement between the Libyan and the British governments to cooperate together in these field, and the transitional government decided that there should be continued communications with the UK on this issue.
“We seek to establish a state of law transparency, and justice, and to build better relations with all countries, especially those who helped us during the 17 February revolution. Britain was one of the countries that helped the Libyan people in the elimination of the tyrant.
“Our attorney general’s office, together with the Interior Ministry, are currently in close cooperation with their British counterparts to uncover who was behind the killing of Yvonne Fletcher. It is important for Libyans as much as it is to the British to know the truth; both have every right to know who killed this policewoman.”