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Libya: New report reveals torture of detainees under NTC

Captured Gaddafi soldiers, suspected loyalists and alleged mercenaries being tortured into ‘confessing’ to pro-Gaddafi crimes

The new authorities in Libya must stamp out arbitrary detention and widespread abuse of detainees, Amnesty International said today (12 October), as it published a new report revealing a pattern of beatings and ill-treatment of captured Gaddafi soldiers, suspected loyalists and alleged mercenaries in western Libya.

Since late August, armed militia have arrested and detained as many as 2,500 people in Tripoli and al-Zawiya. During late August and September, Amnesty researchers visited 11 detention facilities in and around Tripoli and in al-Zawiyah, and interviewed approximately 300 prisoners.

None of those seen by Amnesty had been shown any kind of arrest warrant and many were effectively abducted from their homes by unidentified captors carrying out raids on suspected Gaddafi fighters or loyalists. Detainees were almost always held without legal orders and mostly without the involvement of Libya’s General Prosecution authority. They were held by local councils, local military council or armed brigades - far from the oversight of the Ministry of Justice.

In its 24-page report, “Detention Abuses Staining the New Libya” , Amnesty says there is clear evidence of torture in order to extract confessions or as a punishment. At least two guards - in separate detention facilities - admitted to Amnesty that they beat detainees in order to extract “confessions” more quickly.

In one detention centre Amnesty found a wooden stick and rope, and a rubber hose, of the kind that could be used to beat detainees, including on the soles of their feet - a torture method known as falaqa. In another they heard the sound of whipping and screams from a nearby cell. The organisation said that detainees appear to suffer beatings and torture particularly at the start of their detention, being given a "welcome" on arrival.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

"These detainees have in most cases been arrested without a warrant, beaten - and sometimes worse - on arrest and arrival in detention. They are vulnerable to abuse by armed militias who often act on their own initiative.

“The NTC has to act urgently to translate their public commitments into action, before such abuses become entrenched and stain the new Libya’s human rights record.

"The authorities cannot simply allow this to carry on because they are in a 'transitional' phase. These people must be allowed to defend themselves properly or be released.

“Arbitrary arrest and torture were a hallmark of Colonel al-Gaddafi's rule. There is a real risk that without firm and immediate action, some patterns of the past might be repeated.

"We understand that the transitional authorities are facing many challenges, but if they do not make a clear break with the past now, they will effectively be sending out a message that treating detainees like this is to be tolerated in the new Libya.

Amnesty’s report shows that sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being mercenaries make up between a third and a half of those detained. Some have been released after no evidence was found to link them to fighting. One man from Niger, initially presented to Amnesty as a "mercenary and killer", broke down and explained that he’d "confessed" after being beaten nearly continuously for two days. He denied being involved in fighting.

Black Libyans - particularly from the Tawargha region, which was a base for Gaddafi forces in their efforts to regain control of Misratah - are also particularly vulnerable. Dozens of Tawarghans have been taken from their homes, checkpoints, and even hospitals.

The organisation also found that children have been held with adults and that women detainees have been supervised by male guards.

A 17-year-old boy from Chad, accused of rape and being a mercenary, told Amnesty that he was taken from his home in August by armed men who held him in a school where they punched him and beat him with stick, belts, rifles and rubber cables. He said: "The beatings were so severe that I ended up telling them what they wanted to hear. I told them I raped women and killed Libyans."

Amnesty is calling on Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to ensure that people are not detained without orders from the General Prosecution, and that detention facilities are brought under the control of the Minister of Justice. The organisation said that those being held must be allowed to challenge the lawfulness of their detention or should be released.

Trial proceedings in western Libya have been suspended since the NTC took control. In eastern Libya, which fell under their control in February, they remain suspended. In meetings with Amnesty last month, NTC officials acknowledged concerns over arbitrary detention and ill-treatment, and vowed to do more to get a grip on armed militias and ensure that all those detained enjoy equal protection under the law.

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