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Libya's Gadhafi Calls for Abolition of Oppressive Laws - 2004-04-19

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said that he wants to end human rights violations in his country starting by abolishing so-called exceptional courts and putting an end to the torture of prisoners. Human rights campaigners are encouraged, but not entirely convinced.

Mr. Gadhafi has urged the Libyan parliament to abolish many of the laws that allow people to be arrested without a warrant and encourage unfair trials.

Mr. Gadhafi said normal criminal procedure should replace the current laws, which have been in place for more than 30 years. He also criticized governments that condone the torture of prisoners and called on the Libyan congress to sign international anti-torture conventions.

Amnesty International has long pressured Libya to stop its abusive practices toward detainees and provide fair trials. Amnesty's Middle East director in London, Nicole Choweiry, said that she is cautiously optimistic.

"The announcement itself will not be worthy if it is not accompanied by action," she said. "This is why I am saying Amnesty International welcomes the announcement, but nevertheless has to wait and see what will happen in practice."

The international human rights group sent a delegation to Libya in March, marking the first such trip in 15 years. Ms. Choweiry says the group received no guarantees then that Libya would make changes.

While many nations in the Middle East say they are taking steps toward democracy and reform, Ms. Choweiry said it is unprecedented for an Arab leader to say he wants to completely get rid of the strict authoritarian laws that provide the government with much of its power.

"It is quite unusual what Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has done now, announced that these quite sweeping measures," she added. "I would say that this is a first. I don't think anyone has ever done that."

Mr. Gadhafi has taken steps to improve relations with the West by renouncing his weapons of mass destruction program and agreeing to pay compensation to the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.