* Pillay - Libya detention of Swiss since July 2008 unfair
* Says detention appears to be linked to bilateral dispute
GENEVA, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The top United Nations human rights official called on Tuesday for Libya to release two Swiss businessmen saying their “unfair” detention since July 2008 seemed linked to a diplomatic row.
The two men, sentenced last week to 16 months in prison in Libya for immigration offences, appear to be “victims of a state-level dispute” between Libya and Switzerland, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.
Rachid Hamdani, a Swiss construction company employee and Max Goeldi, Libya head of Swiss-Swedish electrical engineering group ABB, were denied permission to leave Libya days after the arrest in Geneva of a son of leader Muammar Gaddafi on charges later dropped of mistreating two domestic employees.
“I think that the detention of the two Swiss businessmen appears to be a violation because they were detained and held in custody for a very long time before the government of Libya announced that they’re now subject to judicial proceedings,” Pillay told a news conference. “So their detention seems to be unfair and there has been no proper explanation.”
She added: “They appear to be victims of a state-level dispute between Libya and Switzerland and should, in my view, be released as soon as possible.”
Individuals should not be made to suffer because of “bad relations between states”, according to Pillay.
A judicial source in Libya has said that the Swiss face a second trial this month on new charges related to violating economic regulations.
Libyan officials deny any connection between the arrest in Switzerland and the cases of the two businessmen, whom the Swiss foreign ministry has referred to as “hostages”.
A Swiss foreign ministry spokesman in Berne was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday, but last week a spokesman said the men were still in the Swiss embassy in Tripoli. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jonathan Lynn)