The armed militias now ruling much of Libya are torturing detainees deemed loyal to the ousted regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and driving entire neighborhoods and towns into exile, Amnesty International said.
Amnesty quoted detainees as saying 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 electroshock weapons.”
At least 12 detainees had died since September after torture, Amnesty said in a report released on Wednesday evening.
The report is a fresh blow to Libya’s new government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), which helped lead the anti-Qaddafi uprising that broke out one year ago this week and spiraled into a brutal, eight-month civil war.
Since the war’s end with the capture and killing of Qaddafi in October last year, the NTC has struggled to extend its control over the vast desert nation. It has largely failed to rein in the hundreds of brigades that fought in the war, many of which now run their own detention centers for those accused of links to Qaddafi’s regime.
Amnesty said it visited 11 detention camps in central and western Libya last month and this month, and found evidence of torture and abuse at all but one.
“Nobody is holding these militias responsible,” Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International, said by telephone from Jordan on Wednesday, a day after she left Libya.
The UN’s top human rights official and Amnesty International have urged Libya’s government to take control of all makeshift prisons to prevent further atrocities against detainees.
“There’s torture, extrajudicial executions, rape of both men and women,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Jan. 27.
About 2,400 detainees remain held in centers controlled by the new Libyan government, but the militias are holding uncounted thousands more prisoners, Amnesty said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that from March to December last year it visited more than 8,500 detainees in about 60 detention centers.
Amnesty’s delegation witnessed detainees being beaten and threatened with death at a detention center in Misrata. In a Tripoli detention center, they found severely tortured detainees who interrogators tried to conceal, the group reported.
The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders suspended its work in prisons in Misrata late last month because it said torture was so rampant that some detainees were brought in for care only to make them fit for further interrogation and abuse.
The militias were one of the keys to the rebellion that toppled Qaddafi’s 42-year rule last year, but they are maintaining their independence from the NTC.
Hundreds of Libyan militias commemorated the anniversary of the anti-Qaddafi uprising this week by allying into a new unified military council.
Thousands of fighters from across western Libya held a mass parade in Tripoli on Tuesday, showing off heavy machine guns and rocket launchers and firing rifles in the air, an outburst that appeared intended as a warning to anyone who might stage attacks during the anniversary.
Some of the militia reprisals are against dark-skinned Libyans and African contract workers who the Qaddafis brought in for jobs ranging from construction to security and riot control, leading to attacks on so-called “mercenaries” during the uprising.