By Marie-Louise Gumuchian
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's former intelligence chief has not seen a lawyer and has not been told what charges he faces, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday after making the first visit by an international rights group to his Libyan jail cell.
Abdullah al-Senussi, once one of the most feared members of the Gaddafi regime, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) but Libya is resisting an order to hand him over, saying it is capable of trying him.
"Libya's wish to put the people they hold responsible for gross human rights violations on trial is fully understandable," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.
"But to achieve true justice, they need to give Senussi the rights that the previous government denied Libyans for so long. To start, that means making sure he can consult a lawyer."
HRW interviewed Senussi in the al-Hadhba Corrections Facility in Tripoli, a newly renovated facility holding several senior Gaddafi-era officials. He did not complain of physical abuse and said his conditions in custody had been "reasonable".
HRW quoted Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani as saying: "Senussi has the right to a defense lawyer of his choice like any other person standing trial ... Libya is committed to provide a fair trial."
Senussi is suspected of playing a central role in the killing of more than 1,200 inmates at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison in 1996. It was the arrest of a lawyer acting for relatives of the victims that sparked the revolt in February 2011.
He has also been linked to the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland of a U.S. passenger plane that killed 270 people.
Libya's new rulers, who aim to draw up a democratic constitution this year, are keen to try Gaddafi loyalists at home to show the country's citizens that those who helped Gaddafi stay in power for 42 years are being punished.
Human rights activists worry a weak government and rule of law mean legal proceedings will not meet international standards.
Senussi was arrested early last year after arriving with a false Malian passport on a flight to Mauritania from Morocco.
As well as giving him full access to a lawyer and formally notifying him of the charges he faces, HRW said the authorities should also allow visits by lawyers authorized to represent Senussi before the ICC.
He is wanted by the ICC on suspicion of orchestrating brutal reprisals during the 2011 uprising that led to Gaddafi's fall.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)