Torture continues for Libyan detainees

A report released by Amnesty International in February 2012 says that a year after the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's militias are "largely out of control", with the use of torture ubiquitous and the country's new rulers unable – or unwilling – to prevent abuses.

"In January and early February 2012, Amnesty International delegates interviewed scores of victims of torture who were held in and around Tripoli, al-Zawiya, Gharyan, Misratah, and Sirte, as well as several families of people who died in the custody of militias after they were tortured. Detainees told Amnesty International that 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. The patterns of injury observed were consistent with their testimonies. Medical reports confirmed the use of torture on several detainees who had died," says the Amnesty report.

In January 2012 Medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stopped work in Libya’s Misrata detention centers because, they said, detainees were being routinely tortured and denied medical care. According to MSF, medical teams working in Misrata’s detention centers increasingly encountered patients suffering from injuries caused by torture during interrogation sessions. The group reported that after treating 115 people with torture-related wounds and reporting the cases to authorities, several of the patients were returned to the same centers and tortured again. MSF said Libyan officials were taking advantage of their help and exploiting and obstructing their medical work.

The Amnesty Report says that most of the militia-held detainees interviewed were Libyans suspected of having supported or fought on behalf of Gaddafi forces during the conflict. Hundreds of foreign nationals, mostly sub-Saharan black Africans, also continue to be detained, often for no more than having entered Libya irregularly and regardless of the fact that they may be entitled to international protection. Some of these also told Amnesty they were tortured.

"Detainees are often tortured immediately after being seized by militias and subsequently during interrogation, including in officially recognized detention centres. To date, detainees have not been allowed access to lawyers, except for rare cases in eastern Libya. Several told Amnesty International that they had confessed to crimes they had not committed just to end the torture.

Some detainees were too scared to speak – fearing further torture if they did so – and were only prepared to show Amnesty International delegates their torture wounds. Human rights defenders, prosecutors, doctors and many others, including militia members opposed to such abuses, told Amnesty International delegates that they were too afraid to speak publicly about militia abuses they had witnessed. Their fears are justified ¬– people who lodged complaints about abuses reported receiving threats or being attacked by militias. "

The Amnesty Report, while acknowleding the difficulties faces by the new authorities, accusess them of failing to take torture allegations seriously.

"The Libyan authorities have been alerted on numerous occasions to the ongoing abuses by militias... the transitional government appears to have neither the authority nor the political will to rein in the militias, many of which are reluctant to disband or submit to the central authority. The authorities have been unwilling to recognize the scale of militia abuses, at most acknowledging individual cases despite the mounting evidence of patterns of grave, widespread abuses in many parts of the country. This, together with a lack of action to hold perpetrators to account, is sending the wrong message to the militias and encouraging further abuses. Indeed, the failure of the authorities to even begin to investigate with a view to bringing to justice former anti-Gaddafi fighters responsible for war crimes during the conflict and human rights abuses has perpetuated the climate of impunity for such crimes."

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