Libya’s lawlessness

The detention/release episode concerning the four International Criminal Court officials in Libya was, I reckon, a worrying reminder of Libya’s increasing lawlessness.

Remember, they were there to see Saif al-lslam al-Gaddafi and potentially prepare the ground for an ICC-administered trial of Gaddafi’s captured son. Their visit’s chaotic descent into detention and espionage accusations was both damaging to Saif’s chances of receiving a fair trial in Libya (he can’t even see some lawyers without them getting detained) and a reminder of how Libya’s militia groups are dangerously out of control.

As a big new report from Amnesty makes clear today, the militia groups - in their hundreds - have got the new Libya in a “stranglehold” …

Read the full report, 'The rule of law of the rule of militias?' (and see report author Diana Eltahawy talking about it here). A few key points:

  • An estimated 4,000 detainees are detained outside of government control by militia groups
  • In May and June Amnesty found evidence of torture and other abuse in 12 out of 15 detention facilities where it was allowed to interview detainees in private
  • Most common forms of torture being reported: suspension in contorted positions; prolonged beatings with metal bars/chains/electric cables/wooden sticks/plastic hoses/water pipes/rifle butts; electric shocks; burns with cigarettes; burns with hot metal
  • Libya’s Ministry of Interior has said it has managed to disarm four militia groups (out of several hundred in existence)
  • At least 20 people have been tortured to death or shot in militia detention since last August
  • Some detainees have now been held - without lawyers - for over a year
  • Reportedly, three trials relating to last year’s conflict have started in the civilian courts (leaving thousands of people detained without trial)
  • The entire population of the town of Tawargha, estimated at 30,000 people, have been driven out of their homes by a Misratah militia and scattered to various parts of Libya

This last point is particularly depressing. After the people of Misratah suffered the horrors of Gaddafi’s bombardment last spring*, its armed revolutionaries - or thuwwar - have reacted with a long campaign of revenge against the Tawargha people (some of whom fought with Gaddafi’s forces). A vast, indiscriminate vendetta continues to unfold. To quote last month’s Amnesty report on this specific issue:

'The Misratah thuwwar have vowed that the people of Tawargha will never be allowed to return. Organised into scores of militias, they have raided the town again and again to destroy homes and infrastructure, and have blocked access to the town. They have even erased the town’s name on road signs. Tawargha is being wiped off the map.'

Many of the Tawargha people are descended from black African slaves brought into Libya in the nineteenth century. They’re now on the receiving end of a vicious bout of post-Gaddafi racism which is something close to ethnic cleansing.

When Libya’s 2.9 million registered voters got to the polls this Saturday (or, to be more exact, those that actually turn out …) they ought to be relatively content, taking part in the country’s first election since the fall of a dictator. Instead, many of them are deeply worried about where their country is heading …

*You may also want to check out this new version and video of a Joss Stone song called Take Good Care, which was inspired by what happened in Misratah last year. The photojournalist Paul Conroy (later injured in Homs in Syria) previously wrote the song as a general comment on the horrors of war; after seeing the devastation wrought on Misratah by Gaddafi’s weaponry he used some of his images from Misratah to make a new video for the song in support of the ongoing campaign for an international Arms Trade Treaty. I reckon it’s worth bearing in mind this point: if some of Libya’s militia groups are now armed to the teeth with Grad rockets, mortars, machine-guns and RPGs (they are: see p55 of the report) - where did they get them from? Answer: in some cases they got them from other countries keen to “arm the rebels” during last year’s revolution. Now they’re being turned on civilians right across Libya. It’s a salutary warning to those who would rush to similarly arm Syria’s rebels.

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