Coronavirus and Libyan Law: A Legal Essay by Dr. Salwa El-Daghili – Al Marsad


Legal Essay by Dr. Salwa El-Daghili

Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Benghazi

There is no doubt that the Coronavirus pandemic has been addressed medically in terms of its symptoms and health consequences for the individual and society. Most of the information on how to deal with it has become available to almost everyone.

However, this article aims to highlight the way the Libyan law addresses this pandemic, how the Libyan state and its institutions deal with it, and the role the citizen should play in this regard.

As we are not medical practitioners, we may find simple medical information on the nature of this virus and its transmission methods available to us satisfying. However, as specialists in a field concerned with regulating life in society in all its aspects, it is our duty to study how the Libyan legislator organized the methods and controls for dealing with diseases and epidemics in Libyan society.

In this connection, we refer to the Law No. 106/1973 issuing the Public Health Law. Article (1) of the said Law states, “Health and medical care is an established right for citizens guaranteed by the state. The Ministry of Health shall develop health and medical services, raise their level, and increase their efficiency to meet the needs of citizens and keep pace with the scientific progress in these areas in line with the country’s development plan. The Ministry shall also provide the health facilities with its needs of technical staff and equipment.”

Article (2) of the said Law reads, “The Ministry of Health shall oversee public and preventive health, curative medicine, treatment institutions, and pharmaceutical facilities, and monitor the circulation of medicines and the practice of the medical and related professions.”

The outbreak of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has occupied the attention of all global circles due to its serious effects on human health and life and society in general because it is an infectious disease on the one hand and for its rapid spread on the other hand.

The statistics indicate a humanitarian catastrophe that might claim the lives of millions if we fail to put this fatal disease under control. No country has been spared though the number of casualties varies from one country to another.

In this regard, the Libyan Public Health Law has criminalized the transmission of any disease to others. In Article (27) of the said Law, the Libyan legislator defines the infectious diseases as, “In the application of the provisions of this Law, every disease transmitted from one person to another, an animal, a place, or contaminated object to a person shall be an infectious disease. The Executive Regulations of this Law shall indicate these diseases.”

Despite stipulating these diseases in Article (34) of the Law as plague, cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, and relapsing fever, i.e. not including the Coronavirus, the latter is similar as it shares the risk, infection, and spread of these stipulated diseases. The whole world has agreed on classifying it as an epidemic of the age and thus it is subject to the same legal provisions for these epidemics.

On the other hand, this Law refers to the citizen and his duties in the context of supporting the state in its response to epidemics. Article (34) stipulates, “If a person contacts or suspects he has a reportable infectious disease, he shall report this to the competent health or administrative authorities within 24 hours of certain knowledge or suspicion.”

This legally binds the citizen to report the suspected infection with this virus within a specific period; otherwise, he shall violate the provisions of the Law, and shall be subject to the penalty stipulated therein.

This has raised a question about the possibility of applying the provisions of the Penal Code for intentional and manslaughter murders to whoever hides his infection with this virus or attempts to transmit it to others either intentionally or unintentionally.

Undoubtedly, to confront this epidemic, all world countries have intensified their efforts and established special committees with broad powers to curb this pandemic that has swept the world and has been claiming thousands of lives daily. The Law 106/1973 addresses this issue as well.

Article (35) of the Law stipulates, “The health authority shall, upon receiving a notification of a reportable infectious disease, take the necessary measures to prevent the transmission or spread of the disease. To this end, it shall have the right to order the search of homes and places suspected of being infested, isolate the patients and their contacts, make the necessary vaccinations and immunizations, carry out purification and fumigation activities, and destroy what cannot be purified, as indicated in the Executive Regulations of this Law. In all of this, the health authorities may seek the assistance of the security authorities, if necessary.”

Article (36) also provides, “The Minister of Health may issue a decision to consider an entity infested with an infectious disease, in which case all necessary measures shall be taken to prevent the spread of the disease, including the isolation, purification, vaccination, immunization, control, prevention of transmission and other measures that prevent the spread the epidemic.”

Article (37) stipulates, “To combat the epidemic, the health authority may prevent public meetings, destroy the contaminated food and beverages, remove or stop water sources, fill up wells, and close markets, summer resorts, beaches, horse-riding locations, schools, institutes, cafes, restaurants, and any other place it deems its continued operation a public health risk. This shall be done by administrative means.”

Article (35) also obliges the health authority, upon receiving a notification of an infectious disease to take the necessary measures to prevent the transmission or spread of the disease.

While the measures taken by the Supreme Committee to Combat the Coronavirus Epidemic formed under Resolution No. 127/2020 issued by the Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army are precautionary, they are in line with the legal controls established by the Law No. 106/1973 in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Interior. As citizens, we need to undertake our duties with caution and respect these controls to support the concerned bodies in undertaking their mission in addressing this pandemic.

There is no doubt that the Coronavirus will change a lot globally. It is a new tsunami that will cast its shadow on politics, geography, and economics. Certainly, the world after it will not be as it was before. At the national level, we still have an opportunity to confront it by adhering to the legal controls and the decisions of the competent authorities. Any lack of adherence to these measures shall be at a high cost for all of us.

Dr. Salwa El-Daghili,
Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Benghazi