Three judges have ruled that the European Union was wrong to keep a former Libyan government minister on a sanctions list for a decade because it could not show he posed a risk to the country's peace and stability.
The late Abdel Majid Al Gaoud was banned from travelling to the EU and subject to an asset freeze after 2011 because of his links to the regime of Muammar Qaddafi and its human rights abuses against Libya's civilian population.
As the Qaddafi regime was overthrown during the 2011 Arab uprisings, Al Gaoud – the agriculture minister – was arrested at home and detained for six years in Tripoli. He was never charged with a criminal offence and the UN called for his release.
He was eventually freed on health grounds in May 2017 but the EU sanctions regime was not lifted and he was unable to join most of his family in Europe where he wanted to have treatment for cancer.
The EU refused to remove him from its sanctions list, arguing that he still represented a risk to the “peace, stability or security of Libya” or to a successful political transition.
But the former minister said that he had no role in government after 2011 and would have been incapable of posing any threat since he had lived peacefully in Egypt since his release. There was no evidence of any continuing involvement in the internal affairs of Libya, his lawyers said.
Al Gaoud started challenging the listing in 2018 but died in March this year before an EU court delivered its verdict on the case.
His eldest son, Tareg Ghaoud, who lives in Dubai, continued the appeal to clear his father's name and argued that he had never held military or security roles within the Qaddafi government.
The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice, which rules on EU law, found that the decision to keep him on the list solely because of his links to the Qaddafi regime “does not have a sufficiently solid factual basis”.
Three judges ruled that the family’s claims that it did not justify keeping him on the lists were “well-founded”.
The judges ordered the EU to pay costs but the victory was a bittersweet moment for the family.
His four sons and daughter were living at the time in Europe but he was treated in Turkey instead. He died there in March this year, just a month before the initial judgment was scheduled, according to the family. The family believes the listing could have been revoked three years ago.
“This was an individual who had dedicated his professional life to developing civilian works in Libya,” the family said.
“Leaving aside the prejudice caused by the travel ban, it was obviously very upsetting for Mr Al Gaoud, and his family, to have all his accomplishments tarnished by the continued imposition of restrictive measures.
“The court's decision goes to vindicating Mr Al Gaoud's name and reputation and whilst he is sadly no longer with us, it is a source of comfort for his family.”
They said the case highlighted the need for the EU's Council, its main decision-making body, to review its sanctions programme.
“It is insufficient for the Council to merely rely on a person's title or former association with a targeted regime for years on end,” they said.
An EU official said the council "took note" of the ruling and was "still assessing its effects and consequences" but said it examined people on the sanctions programme at least every 12 months.