Business ethics meet Gadhafi’s Libya

Libyan rebel misses out on the benefits of a really nice new prison

Canada’s largest engineering firm, Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin, has come under criticism for its operations in Libya. A recent story by Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith revealed close ties between the Canadian engineering company and Col. Gadhafi’s son Saadi before the regime collapsed.

SNC-Lavalin’s work with Saadi focused on establishment of a civil-military corps of engineers in Libya (“SNC-Lavalin developed close relationship with Gadhafi son: documents,” Globe and Mail, 14 January 2012):

Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail in Libya reveal that SNC met repeatedly with the North African leader’s notorious third son, Saadi Gadhafi, the two sides discussing a venture that would create a new board and also a logo that would fuse the green of the Libyan flag with the blue of SNC.

For almost three years, from 2008 to 2010, Canada’s leading engineering company played a role developing the Libyan Corps of Engineers, a military and civilian unit that fell under Mr. Gadhafi’s personal supervision. In their discussions with Mr. Gadhafi, the Canadian firm described its services as a defence contractor.

SNC says the company was never involved in any programs related to technology, munitions or combat.  “Our role was, and is, strictly civil engineering and infrastructure.

“The only military-related project we performed in Libya was the Engineering Corps program for the detention centre to develop capacity-building,” a company spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail, alluding to a controversial, $275-million prison near Tripoli. “Apparently, at one point there was talk of other future projects, but they were put on hold when the civil unrest happened.”

The company defended its participation in the prison project when it was first revealed, before the fall of the Gadhafi regime, by arguing that it would help improve conditions for Libyan prisoners (Paul Waldie, “SNC-Lavalin defends Libya Prison Project,” Globe and Mail, 24 February 2011):

[SNC-Lavalin] spokeswoman Leslie Quinton confirmed the project was under way. She added in an e-mail that the prison will be “the country’s first to be built according to international human rights standards. We think this is an important step forward for this country and an opportunity for us as a company to share values that we think are essential to all citizens of the world.”

Somehow missed was the question of what would go on inside the brand new prison. Presumably it would have been much like what went on inside the prisons that didn’t meet international standards, but perhaps cleaner and roomier (Ian Birrell, “Inside Gaddafi’s torture chamber,” Daily Mail, 27 August 2011):

As we went downstairs, there was a door made of heavy iron bars. Inside were four tiny – and empty – cells, about 5ft by 3ft. With their tiled floors, they looked like nothing more than shower rooms. But several prisoners were often stuffed inside, their crimes perhaps nothing more than uttering a word out of place in a nation ruled by fear.

Chillingly, they were still smeared with blood, marking where brutalised prisoners had lain in agony on the ground after the torment of torture. Most terribly of all, in the first cell, there were two bloodstained handprints sliding down a wall.

The question of torture arose again in Libya on Thursday as Médecins Sans Frontières announced that it would halt work in a makeshift prison in Misrata based on evidence that a growing number of inmates were being subjected to torture (Graeme Smith, “Aid groups condemn signs of torture in Libyan prisons,” Globe and Mail, 26 January 2012).

Photo by B.R.Q.

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