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Amnesty International Again Criticizes Libyan Rebels Over Detainee Abuse

One of the newest governments in the world, the Transitional National Council, again came up for criticism by Amnesty International for systemic detainee abuse. The report provides evidence of arbitrary detention and abuse of thousands of people in Libya over the past several months. Amnesty calls the lack of oversight a stain on the new Libya.

Detainees are being held in former prisons as well as in makeshift detention facilities such as schools, football clubs and apartments. These are not overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, but are simply controlled by local councils, military councils and brigades (kataeb), or by the Free Libya Armed Forces (members of the regular armed forces who took sides against Colonel al-Gaddafi and civilians who took up arms).

Beatings and other ill-treatment are common, particularly upon capture and in the first days of detention. Impunity for such abuses remains entrenched. Libyan and foreign detainees have also complained of torture at the hands of their captors and guards. At least two guards in two different detention facilities admitted to Amnesty International that they beat detainees in order to extract “confessions” more quickly. In one detention centre, Amnesty International delegates found a wooden stick and rope, and a rubber hose, of the kind that could have been used to beat detainees, including on the soles of their feet, a torture method known as falaqa. In another, they heard the sound of whipping and screams.

Detainees are held without legal orders and, with rare exceptions, without any involvement of the General Prosecution, as the justice system remains paralysed. In at least two cases known to Amnesty International in al-Zawiya and Tripoli, officials responsible for detentions ignored release orders issued by the judicial police and prosecution.

The TNC is under a pretty incredible strain, in the midst of a civil war. This is hardly an excuse for looking the other way at widespread abuse. Reports have shown a racial component, too, as anyone with dark skin is assumed to be a foreign collaborator with Gadhafi. Many arrests are really glorified kidnappings. Children have been among those seized from their homes, thrown into makeshift prisons, and abused, sometimes for no better reason than “loving Gadhafi.” Here’s an example from the report:

On 24 August, in a separate incident, a group of thuwwar entered a house in Abu Salim where two brothers from Sabha, both in their early twenties, were staying. The brothers said that after searching the house, the thuwwar tied their hands behind their backs and then beat them while taking them to Ali Ureit School in the Abu Mashmasha area of Tripoli. The elder brother recounted:

“They beat us several times using their rifles. They also whipped us. When they transferred us to Mitiga [airport detention facility], they forced us to walk on our knees to the vehicles while they insulted and beat us. They accused us of being mercenaries.”

It is not enough to have a slightly less brutal government after the Arab revolutions. TNC officials have paid lip service to “upholding human rights.” They can show it through zero tolerance for this kind of abuse. And of course, this is another example of the pitfalls of so-called humanitarian intervention, when you hand over the reins to another human rights abuser.

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David Dayen

David Dayen