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Libya: 'Out of control' militias committing widespread abuses - new report

At least 12 detainees held by militias have died after being tortured since September

Armed militias operating across Libya are committing widespread human rights abuses with impunity, fuelling insecurity and hindering the rebuilding of state institutions, warned Amnesty International in a new report released today (16 February), a year on from the start of Libya's February 2011 uprising.

The report, Militias threaten hopes for new Libya (Word), documents widespread and serious abuses, including war crimes, by a multitude of militias against suspected al-Gaddafi loyalists, with cases of people being unlawfully detained and tortured - sometimes to death.

African migrants and refugees have also been targeted, and revenge attacks have been carried out, forcibly displacing entire communities - while the authorities have done nothing to investigate the abuses and hold those responsible to account.

Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera said:

“Militias in Libya are largely out of control and the blanket impunity they enjoy only encourages further abuses and perpetuates instability and insecurity.

“A year ago Libyans risked their lives to demand justice. Today their hopes are being jeopardised by lawless armed militias who trample human rights with impunity. The only way to break with the entrenched practices of decades of abuse under Colonel al-Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule is to ensure that nobody is above the law and that investigations are carried out into such abuses.

“Militias with a record of abuse of detainees should simply not be allowed to hold anyone and all detainees should be immediately transferred to authorised detention facilities under the control of the National Transitional Council.”

In January and early February 2012, Amnesty delegates visited 11 detention facilities used by various militias in Tripoli, Zawiya, the Western Mountains, Misratah, Sirte and Benghazi. Amnesty delegates met detention administrators, hospital staff, doctors, lawyers, detainees, former detainees, relatives of people killed or abused in detention, as well as representatives of the Libyan authorities. At ten of the locations detainees said they had been tortured or ill-treated there, and showed Amnesty injuries resulting from recent abuse. Several detainees said they had “confessed” to rape, killings and other crimes they had not committed just to end the torture.

Individuals held in and around Tripoli, Gharyan, Misratah, Sirte and Zawiya told Amnesty they had been suspended in contorted positions; beaten for hours with whips, cables, plastic hoses, metal chains and bars, and wooden sticks; and given electric shocks with live wires and taser-like electro-shock weapons.

At a detention centre in Misratah an Amnesty delegate saw armed militia members beating and threatening some detainees whose release had been ordered. An older detainee from Tawargha was cowering, squatting against the wall, and crying as he was being kicked and threatened by a militia member who told Amnesty that “those from Tawargha will not be released or we’ll kill them”.

In an interrogation centre in Misratah and Tripoli Amnesty found detainees who interrogators had tried to conceal and who had been severely tortured - one so badly that he could hardly move or speak.

At least 12 detainees held by militias have died after being tortured since September. Their bodies were covered in bruises, wounds and cuts and some had had fingernails or toenails pulled out. Not a single effective investigation is known to have been carried out into cases of torture, even in cases where detainees died after having been tortured at militia headquarters or in interrogation centres formally or informally recognised or linked to the central authorities.

No investigations have been carried out either into other grave abuses, such as the extrajudicial execution of detainees and other war crimes, including the killing of some 65 people whose bodies were found on 23 October in a hotel in Sirte which served as a base for opposition fighters from Misratah. Video footage exists showing militia members hitting and threatening to kill a group of 29 men in their custody. One is heard saying “take them all and kill them”. Their bodies were among those found three days later at the hotel, many with their hands tied behind their back and shot in the head.

The Libyan authorities have so far taken no action against the militias who have forcibly displaced entire communities - a crime under international law.  Militias from Misratah drove out the entire population of Tawargha, some 30,000 people, and looted and burned down their homes in revenge for crimes some Tawargha are accused of having committed during the conflict.  Thousands of members of the Mashashya tribe were similarly forced out of their village by militias from Zintan, in the Nafusa Mountains. These and other communities remains displaced in makeshift camps around the country while no action has been taken to hold the perpetrators accountable or to allow the displaced communities to return home.

Ms Rovera said:

“It is imperative that the Libyan authorities firmly demonstrate their commitment to turning the page on decades of systematic violations by reining in the militias, investigating all past and present abuses and prosecuting those responsible - on all sides - in accordance with international law.”

  • Read the report (Word)
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