Libyan militias are “out of control,” committing widespread human rights abuses and fueling insecurity as Libyans attempt to rebuild state institutions, says a new report by Amnesty International. The report, released a year after the start of the February 2011 uprising, documents the increasingly widespread and serious abuses, including war crimes, committed by Libyan militias.
The report highlights the abuses committed by militias against suspected Qaddafi loyalists. African migrants and refugees have frequently been the target of these revenge attacks. Journalists have reported on the targeting of African migrants by militias over the past year. Yesterday, The Christian Science Monitor’s Dan Murphy, describing a trip to Libya last year, wrote that he saw “African men, wearing rags and without proper shoes, described as ‘mercenaries’ for Qaddafi; that did not seem accurate to me.”
In January and February, Amnesty International visited 11 militia run detention facilities in central and western Libya. Observers found that at 10 of these locations, detainees reported being tortured or ill-treated. In several cases, detainees reported admitting to rape and other crimes they hadn’t committed after undergoing torture.
Amnesty reports that since September, at least 12 detainees held by militias have died after being tortured. Victims of torture reported the use of torture methods once common in Qaddafi’s prison system: electric shocks and beatings with whips, cables, plastic hoses, metal chains, wooden bars and sticks. At a detention center in Misrata, Amnesty observers saw militia members beating and threatening detainees whose release had been ordered. “Thousands” of people remain illegally detained by the militias.
While abuses by Libyan militias have been an ongoing problem since the revolution against Qaddafi’s government began in February 2011, the current government have taken little to no action against the militias even as the country attempts to rebuild its legal and political institutions.
“Militias in Libya are largely out of control and the blanket impunity they enjoy only encourages further abuses and perpetuates instability and insecurity,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International. “A year ago Libyans risked their lives to demand justice. Today their hopes are being jeopardized by lawless armed militias who trample human rights with impunity.”
But while the new Libyan government struggles to rebuild institutions and has set a June 23 deadline for the election of a new 200-member national congress, a poll released yesterday found that only 15 percent of Libyans think Libya should have a democratic government in 12 months time while 29 percent said they would prefer a “(single) strong Libyan leader.”