Libyan militias accused of torture

The Guardian reports: Three months after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, concerns are mounting about the mistreatment and torture of prisoners held by Libyan militiamen who are operating beyond the control of the country’s transitional government, as well as by officially recognised security bodies.

Amnesty International warned that prisoners from Libya and other African countries have been subject to abuse. The warning comes against a background of anxiety in western capitals about Tripoli’s failure to tackle security and political issues.

This week’s fighting in Bani Walid, a former stronghold of the Gaddafi regime to the south of the capital, has fuelled fears that tribal rivalries and armed clashes could explode into a wider conflict. Last week, the president of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, was mobbed by demonstrators in his Benghazi office.

Ian Martin, the UN’s special envoy to Libya, told the security council on Wednesday that the Bani Walid fighting did not indicate a resurgence of pro-Gaddafi sentiment, but added this warning: “The former regime may have been toppled, but the harsh reality is that the Libyan people continue to have to live with its deep-rooted legacy.”

Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, said that more than 8,500 detainees were being held by militia groups in about 60 centres.

The aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières has added its voice to the chorus of concern by announcing that it had halted work in the coastal city of Misrata because staff were being asked to patch up detainees during torture sessions. “Patients were brought to us in the middle of interrogation for medical care, in order to make them fit for more interrogation,” said MSF’s Christopher Stokes. “This is unacceptable. Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.”

Amnesty said its delegates in Libya had met detainees in and around Tripoli, Misrata and Gheryan who showed marks indicating they had recently been tortured. Injuries included open wounds on the head, limbs, back and elsewhere.

Oliver Miles writes: Since I returned from a week in Libya a few days ago there have been some bad headlines, for example “Protesters storm Libyan government HQ in Benghazi” and “Gaddafi loyalists seize Libyan town”. It was my first visit since the revolution, and I have already written about my impressions, which were favourable and sometimes inspiring. Was I wrong?

First, a word about the media situation. Foreign correspondents move freely in Libya. Ordinary Libyans have found their voice, and there is a flood of new Arabic language newspapers, which have yet to prove themselves. The National Transitional Council is lamentably weak in strategic communication and has failed to make public even basic facts like the names and number of members.

As a result, news stories have to be looked at critically. While I was there I heard two stories that never made the media: two people “executed” in central Tripoli, quite close to my hotel, and four international officials kidnapped in the far south. Neither story turned out to be accurate – the “execution” was of two would-be carjackers who happened to pick on a car full of armed militia, and the “kidnapping” was the temporary detention of four foreigners driving in an unmarked car in the desert without papers.

Bani Walid, the town reportedly seized by Gaddafi loyalists, is quite remote. It is also untypical, perhaps unique in Libya, in that its inhabitants are virtually all from one tribe. Since the first reports of what happened there a day or two ago, a more complicated story has begun to emerge (as reflected in more recent reports). A fighter with the revolutionary forces had claimed that Gaddafi loyalists were flying green flags in the central town, but it now appears that this is not true. We are left with a serious breakdown of law and order in which at least four people were killed.

The transitional government will only be in power until the summer. If plans work out it will then hand over to an elected government. It is not even a lame duck, because it never walked on two legs. It faces many interlinked problems, the most urgent being security, humanitarian relief and kickstarting the economy.

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