November 25, 2009 / 8:39 PM / 9 years ago

Libya offers rare opening to human rights group

ALGIERS, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Campaign group Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday it had for the first time been given permission to launch a report on Libya’s rights record from inside the country, a step it said showed a new openness.

Libya was for decades off-limits to any foreigners trying to scrutinise the rule of its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, but in the past few years there has been a limited opening up led by Gaddafi’s reform-minded son.

New York-based Human Rights Watch is critical of Libya’s government. In its 2009 annual report it said Libyans were denied freedom of expression and dozens of people were in prison for criticising the country’s leadership.

“Human Rights Watch is planning to release its report on human rights in Libya from Tripoli in the first week of December,” the group said in a statement sent to Reuters.

“We think this is an important precedent and an indicator that some members of the Libyan government are open to listening to criticism of their human rights record.”

The decision to allow the report to be launched from Tripoli came a month after Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, was appointed to a post which, de facto, makes him Libya’s second most powerful figure after his father.

Saif al-Islam has said he wants to reform his country. He helped negotiate a deal under which Libya renounced banned weapons programmes in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, ending years of isolation.

Foreign rights activists have in the past had only limited access to Libya, a North African oil producer where firms including BP (BP.L), ExxonMobil (XOM.N) and ENI (ENI.MI) have made major investments.

Amnesty International said a fact-finding mission it sent to Libya in May this year was the first the authorities had allowed in since 2004.

Human Rights Watch said the report it will unveil at a news conference in Tripoli next month will identify areas where respect for human rights is causing concern and make recommendations to Libya’s government.

“We want to ensure, however, that the press conference will be open to all journalists and also to any lawyers, former prisoners and families of prisoners who may be interested in attending,” it said in its statement. (Editing by Charles Dick) ((maghreb.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com; tel: +213 21 727 020; fax: +213 21 639 151))

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