Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report condemning Libya’s practice of confining women and girls in prison-like facilities for suspected moral transgressions. The report, A Threat to Society? Arbitrary Detention of Women and Girls for ‘Social Rehabilitation, details the use of so-called “protective” homes that are essentially prisons where women and girls are held indefinitely without criminal convictions or access to any legal redress. Some of the women interviewed by HRW were being held because they were accused of having extramarital sex, some having already served their sentences in prisons for this “crime” but lacking a male family member willing to take custody of them. Others were victims of rape that family members had driven out of their homes. Even women who have sought sanctuary from domestic violence are refused the right to leave.
Officially, the detention centers are meant to rehabilitate women who have “transgressed socially-accepted norms of behavior” and to protect women who would be subjected to violence at the hands of family members. However, HRW charges, “Libya is violating some of the most basic principles of human rights law in the operation of these facilities.” The report states, “Libyan authorities treat adult women detained in social rehabilitation facilities like legal minors with little or no independent decision making-authority over their lives” and demands the release of all women and girls, as well as the establishment of actual voluntary shelters.
In response to the report, the Libyan government has promised to form a council to investigate the claims as the official response to the report claims that HRW has ignored “Islamic values” as well as “the traditions and habits” that “govern the Libyan society.”
Although Libya provides for some forms of gender equality, according to HRW, the country’s zina laws and repressive social norms subordinate women. Even rape victims who attempt to have charges brought against their assailant cans subsequently be charged with crimes. If their accusations do not end in conviction they can be charged and imprisoned for “adultery and fornication” and judges can propose that the rape victim marry the rapist as a “social remedy.”