UN uncovers acts of torture in Libya

A UN report recently presented to the UN Security Council has revealed many people in Libya remain imprisoned by Militia forces in Libya almost two years after the overthrowing of Colonel Gaddafi. The UN report calls the situation “unacceptable” amid accounts of torture and severe mistreatment of prisoners.

The report by the UN has also stated that these detainee camps are only partially under state control and that a significant number of them remain in the hands of armed forces and security not even affiliated with the current government. While the UN estimates that while there are around 8,000 conflict-related detainees being held in prison camps, the report states that many of them are only controlled “nominally” by defence ministries and official authority. Some even remain out of government control and are run by “armed brigades not affiliated with the state in any form”.

There have been many reports of torture and severe mistreatment of prisoners at several of these camps. The larger body of reports coming from those that are indeed outside of any state jurisdiction. Amnesty International researcher Magda Mughrabi says that armed forces not under state control effectively do what they please with their prisoners as they are better equipped than the actual Libyan forces: – “We have visited prisons where the abuse is systematic. Often militias come and go as they please, even in prisons that are supposed to be under government control”.

“They’re better armed than the judicial police and treat prisoners however they want. In one detention facility, we even documented a case where a militia abducted a prisoner from within his jail cell”. Some of the testimonies from prisoners and from further evidence Amnesty International has collected at such camps have revealed some horrific torture techniques being used. There have been accounts and evidence of prisoners being beaten with hosepipes, receiving electric shocks, cuts and wounds to the genitals and having prisoners eyes sprayed with insect repellent.

Libya’s Justice Minister Salah Marghani was questioned on the current situation in these militia prisons and said that while they are making every effort to tackle this problem he stresses that current resources within the country to control the problem are limited: – “We have a big problem, but it is a problem we are trying to tackle. We haven’t given up. Even though the circumstances are challenging, we’re still pushing to improve the situation”.

Furthermore the World Organisation Against Torture (WOAT) has gone on record as saying that the programmes required to train personnel to take control of the situation are not on a large enough scale to bring about a full-scale transformation of the situation. Karim Salem, project co-ordinator for WOAT has said that “Without proper large-scale training, it is impossible to change the culture in these institutions”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has also stated that he is concerned about problems like this in Libya could be a factor in a potential deterioration in the foundations of any new government as the country still continues the uneasy process of transition into a new constitution “Conflicting interests and views of political and regional forces in the country, reflected in the General National Congress, may have compromised its effectiveness as a legislative body and its standing in the eyes of many Libyans. This has had an undeniable impact on the stability of the political process and has hindered the government in its ability to address the main problems facing the country.”

It seems then that there are a number of contrasting views on how such poor treatment of militia prisoners has come about and why such prison camps are only under partial control of the judicial forces. There are those in Libya such as Justice Minister Marghani arguing that any efforts that are being made hindered by a lack of resources in their efforts to resolve that problem on a bigger scale, further enforced by the words of Karim Salem and WOAT who echo the same views on a lack of training for appropriate forces to take over from private forces not controlled by Libyan authorities. However, Secretary-General Ki-Moon has got the strong impression that a lack of integrity from new officials during the Libyan government transition has led to not prioritising such problems properly. He also feels that as a result of this many of those in Libya seeing a new era for their nation after the demise of Colonel Gaddafi may start to have doubts over the changes they thought would bring them better prosperity in the long run. It seems then that a switch in priorities and taking a fresh outlook at what key issues should be addressed within the country could pave the way to a greater foundation being laid down for the new government in these difficult times.

ROBERT PRITCHARD