Italy/Libya:"Special and privileged" bilateral relationship treaty

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On 30 August 2008, Italy and Libya signed a friendship, partnership and co-operation treaty for the purpose of developing a "special and privileged" bilateral relationship involving a strong and wide-ranging partnership in political, economic and other fields. The treaty also seeks to end the "painful" chapter of the past involving suffering inflicted on Libyan people during Italy's colonial adventure, for which Italy expressed its regret in a joint statement in 1998. The two parties commit to respect international legality and their respective sovereignty, not to resort to threats or to the use of force, to abstain from interference in each other's internal affairs, nor to allow their countries to be used for any hostile action against each other. Italy and Libya also resolve to engage in a peaceful resolution of any disputes that may arise, to respect the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to establish a space for dialogue and understanding inspired by tolerance, coexistence and mutual respect.

With regards to putting the colonial past and other disputes behind them, Italy vows to make funding available for key infrastructural projects up to a value of $5 billion ($250m per year for 20 years). These projects will be carried out by Italian companies, following agreement between the two parties on their nature and on a schedule for their completion, with the funding managed by Italy, and Libya making the land necessary for their completion available at no expense, as well as helping to acquire material that can be obtained in loco and waiving taxes on customs and import proceedings, with the money saved used for the payment of electricity, gas, water and telephone lines used. A mixed committee would be in charge of these projects, with Italian companies entrusted with carrying out future projects, limits applicable solely to Italian companies removed and special initiatives such as the construction of 200 housing units, the assigning of undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships to 100 Libyan students (renewed for others to enjoy once the original beneficiaries have completed their studies), a healthcare programme in Italy for the victims of mines in Libya, the reintroduction of pensions to Libyans who have a right to them on the basis of Italian records and their heirs, and the return to Libya of manuscripts and archaeological remains removed from Libya in colonial times. Libyan visas would also be granted "without restriction" to Italian citizens who were expelled from Libya, regardless of the purpose for which they are sought.

A Partnership Committee will be set up to seal the new co-operation in multiple fields between the two countries (scientific, cultural, economic and industrial, on energy, defence, non-proliferation and disarmament, between their respective parliaments and local bodies, as well as fighting terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking and 'illegal' immigration), with annual meetings, both at a prime ministerial level and that of ministers in charge of foreign affairs, the latter to monitor the implementation of the treaty and other agreements.

Article 19 deals with the "intensifying" of co-operation in "fighting terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking and illegal immigration", in accordance with the agreement signed in Rome in December 2000, and subsequent understandings, including co-operation protocols signed in Tripoli on 29 December 2007. The two parties also agree to set up a border control system for Libyan land borders (50% funded by Italy and 50% of the funding sought from the EU on the basis of unspecified understandings reached between Libya and the European Commission "in the past"), for which Italian companies with the necessary technological know-how will be responsible. Italy and Libya will formulate initiatives to combat illegal immigration in countries of origin of migratory flows. Article 20 deals with co-operation in the defence field between the two countries' armed forces, which may envisage exchanges of missions of experts, instructors and technical experts, as well as military information, and the carrying out of joint manoeuvres. Industrial partnership in the sector of defence and military industries is also envisaged, as is Italian support in international arenas for indemnities to be paid to Libyan citizens who have been victims of landmines and for the clearing and rehabilitation of affected areas by the countries responsible.

There were concerns over the military aspects of the treaty, particularly as news emerged that the two countries were undertaking not to allow their territory to be used for attacks on the other party, and whether, in Italy's case, this would be compatible with NATO membership in the case of a conflict between Libya and a NATO member state. In the event, this undertaking is included in article 4.2 of the treaty, "Italy will not use, nor allow the use of its territories, in any hostile act against Libya, and Libya will not use, nor allow the use of its territories, in any hostile act against". In 1986, Libya fired two Scud missiles at the island of Lampedusa (which failed to hit their target), after air raids by the USA against the North African country that were allegedly launched using Italy as a base, in retaliation for a terrorist attack targeting USA military personnel in a Berlin club.

Also, in spite of the customary undertaking by the two countries to respect human rights, there is a mass of information available concerning the violation of human rights in Libya, particularly with regards to the treatment of 'illegal' migrants and asylum seekers, in many of which Italy has a degree of responsibility due to co-operation between the two countries in this field. This includes deportation to countries in which asylum seekers risk being subjected to torture (and cases in which this has happened have been documented), such as Erithrea, and the conditions in which they are held in detention centres for migrants, some of which have been built with funding from Italy.

In a question for the interior and foreign affairs ministers asked in Senate by senators Marco Perduca (Radicals, PD), Donatella Poretti (Radicals, PD) and Alberto Maritati (PD) on 1 October 2008, they cited reports concerning the treatment of immigrants in the Italian-funded reception centre in Al Kufra. They are crammed into five small rooms (three for men, two for women), there have been instances when they have suffered torture and rapes (particularly women), and "it would seem that the Libyan police regularly sells the immigrants to traffickers of human beings". An Erithrean woman claimed that Italians (presumably diplomats) visited the centre in late 2005, and left the camp after being reassured about conditions therein by a single detainee, without further enquiries. The senators stress that similar information is also available about other camps in Libya, this time confirmed by Mario Mori, the former director of SISDE (the civilian intelligence service, until a new law reforming Italian secret services was passed in August 2007, see Statewatch News online, September 2007). In a hearing of the Parliament Committee for oversight over the secret services in 2005, Mori claimed that in Libya, 'illegals' are "ensnared like dogs, placed on pick-up trucks and released into reception centres in which those guarding them have to place their handkerchiefs over their mouths to enter, as a result of the nauseating odours". As for the Italian-funded centre in Sabha, on the edge of the desert, "the centre is meant to host 100 people, but there are 650, heaped onto each other without respect for any hygienic norms and in terrible conditions", claimed Mori.

Trattato di amicizia, partnerariato e cooperazione tra la Repubblica Italiana e la Grande Giamariria Araba Libica Popolare Socialista, 30.8.2008 (in Italian)

Question (4-00595), Senate, 1.10.2008, Legislatura 16a -Aula- Resoconto stenografico della seduta n.062 del 01/10/2008

Background on migrants' situation in Libya: Escape from Tripoli: Report on the conditions of migrants in transit in Libya, Fortress Europe, 25.10.2007.

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