By Mohamed Eljarh & Ashraf Abdul Wahab.
London & Tripoli, 7 December:
The National Congress is due to debate the case of Interior . . .[restrict]Minister Ashour Shuwail on Sunday, amidst growing criticism of the Integrity Commission and the criteria it employs to determine who is fit to hold public office in Libya.
“The Congress will discuss the case of Ashour Shuwail at its next session, as well as the cases of other ministers who were excluded but later found to meet the standards of integrity”, said Justice & Construction Congresswoman Majda Al-Falah on Thursday.
Shuwail is one of four Zeidan ministers initially disbarred from taking office by the Integrity Commission who has subsequently won his case on appeal.
“People are getting increasingly unhappy with the Integrity Commission, and if I’m honest, I don’t think it’s long for this world”, said one senior official from the old Kib government on condition of anonymity. “I have also heard that Shuwail is likely to win his case in the Supreme Court.”
The interior minister was initially disbarred by the Integrity Commission on 13 November 2012, along with three other ministers, in a decision that immediately stoked controversy. Protests were launched by citizens in Beida and by police personnel in eastern Libya and Tripoli demanding that Shuwail be reinstated.
On 3 December it was announced that Shuwail had won his case on appeal, prompting an immediate decision by Zeidan to reinstate him as interior minister, and an announcement by GNC Spokesman Omar Hmaidan that Congress looked forward to his being sworn in by them.
Neither decision pleased the Integrity Commission, which submitted a note to the GNC on Wednesday reminding the legislative body that Shuwail could only take up his post once all avenues of appeal had been exhausted, with the next stop being Libya’s Supreme Court.
Already, however, some legal experts have challenged the Integrity Commission on this point, countering that in the eyes of the law, Shuwail now meets the integrity criteria unless and until the Supreme Court rules otherwise.
When making its decisions on who is fit to hold public office and who is not, the Integrity Commission judges candidates against more than a dozen different criteria, any one of which is sufficient to render them disbarred.
In the view of the Commission, Shuwail fell into the criterion of one “who carried out hostile acts against the revolution” and hence “would not be allowed to hold high public office in the new Libya”. The criterion is vague and open to interpretation, and the lack of any legal definition or guidelines to clarify the process makes it vaguer still.
Shuwail was the head of Benghazi’s traffic police during the Qaddafi era, and he was accused of carrying out hostile activities against the revolution on 17, 18 and 19 February 2011 when he submitted details of citizens who were protesting in Benghazi. Qaddafi’s intelligence service had requested the details of those citizens through their car and license registrations.
However, Shuwail argued that in that early period, the Qaddafi regime was very much still in place, and that the protocols and procedures to submit the information to intelligence services were still effective and in place. Even had he himself not been there, Shuwail argued, the information could easily have been passed on by others.
Moreover, Shuwail has pointed out that he was one of those involved in the formation of the Benghazi Local Council, days before the formation of the National Transitional Council. He was also one of the speakers and officials present when the NTC was formed, and one who strongly supported the appointment of Mustafa Abdul Jalil as its chairman.
So it was that Tripoli’s court of appeal nullified the Integrity Commission’s verdict to disbar Shuwail on 3 December, citing vagueness of the criteria and the lack of any substantial evidence that he had in fact carried out hostile activities against the revolution. Shuwail’s defence team had a strong case to argue for the nullification of the Integrity Commission’s decision.
Another disbarred minister to contest the verdict against him has been Ali Muhairiq, Zeidan’s choice for minister of electricity, and a well-known figure amongst the ranks of veteran Qaddafi opposition activists.
Muhairiq joined the opposition in 1980, playing an active role in exposing the regime’s crimes and later creating and administering anti-Qaddafi websites. He was disbarred by the Integrity Commission on the basis that he was part of Qaddafi’s Revolutionary Committees whilst a student at the University of Tripoli and that his name was listed with others who took part in the executions of students following Qaddafi’s infamous decree of 7 April 1976, licencing his Revolutionary Committees to persecute students accused of opposing his regime.
However, Muhairiq challenged the Integrity Commission’s decision in many TV interviews. He denied that he was ever a member of Qaddafi’s Revolutionary Committees, and pointed out further that no single student was executed at the University of Tripoli until 1980, one year after he left Libya in 1979.
In another interview, Muhairiq urged the General National Congress and the Integrity Commission to review their governing law and criteria and emphasised that the law in its current form would be indefensible in many court cases.
He said that any law that approves a minister [Foreign Minister Ali Aujali] who worked with Qaddafi right up until the revolution, whilst disbarring another [himself] who opposed him for more than three decades, has some serious shortcomings and required urgent review by lawmakers and legal experts.
Reports have now emerged that a review may be under way of the constitutionality of the governing laws and criteria by which the Integrity Commission operates. There are concerns that criteria preventing an individual from holding public office if he or she was “known for glorifying” the previous regime or “stood against the 17 February revolution”, may not in fact be legal and are certainly open to broad interpretation.
The campaigning NGO Human Rights Watch has also strongly criticised the criteria, arguing that “whilst it is understandable and reasonable that after decades of corrupt dictatorship, public officials in the new Libya should meet high standards of integrity, nevertheless exclusion from public office should be based on concrete and provable claims of wrongdoing, rather than poorly defined connections with the previous regime.” [/restrict]