Libyan Militias Face Accusations of Ongoing War Crimes


As Libyans prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of the Western-backed uprising that ultimately toppled the regime of despot Muammar Gadhafi, human-rights monitors say hundreds of “out of control” militia groups are still engaged in mass savagery — raping and torturing people to death in makeshift prison camps, ethnically cleansing parts of the country, and more.

The most recent charges came on Wednesday. Researchers with the organization Amnesty International released a fresh report, citing interviews with detainees and observations on the ground, accusing the lawless Libyan militias of committing widespread human rights abuses including what amounts to war crimes.

The atrocities documented in the report include rape, torture, extrajudicial executions, looting, and even the displacement of whole neighborhoods and towns. Some detainees held by the militias reported being suspended in contorted positions and subjected to electro-shock abuse.

“Armed militias operating across Libya commit widespread human rights abuses with impunity, fueling insecurity and hindering the rebuilding of state institutions,” the group said in a statement about its latest report. “African migrants and refugees have also been targeted, and revenge attacks have been carried out, forcibly displacing entire communities.”

At 10 of the 11 prison camps visited by Amnesty delegates in Libya, despite militia efforts to conceal the crimes, detainees reported savage torture and showed investigators evidence of the abuse. At some of the facilities, investigators discovered rapes by prison guards, beatings with whips or metal chains, and even torture by electrocution.

Several detainees also reported falsely confessing to crimes just to make the abuse stop, Amnesty International said.

In recent months, at least a dozen detainees are known to have been tortured to death while in custody, according to the group. “Their bodies were covered in bruises, wounds and cuts and some had had nails pulled off,” investigators noted in the report.

A former Libyan diplomat recently made headlines after being brutalized and tortured to death in militia custody. And more instances of death-by-torture are being uncovered on a regular basis.   

The abuse has become so rampant that in late January, the non-profit group Doctors Without Borders — an international organization that sends medical teams to disaster-stricken regions and war zones — halted its involvement with militia-run prison camps in the city of Misrata. The group determined that, in many cases, detainees were being offered medical care only to ensure they would be in good enough condition to endure more torture and interrogations. 

Even the United Nations, which originally signed off on the resolution used by NATO to wage war against Libya, has highlighted the problem. “There’s torture, extrajudicial executions, rape of both men and women,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in late January.

In November, the self-styled “International Criminal Court” announced that it was investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Libya by revolutionaries and NATO forces. The list of allegations cited by the “prosecutor” included unlawful detention of civilians and extrajudicial executions. 

The Libyan “National Transitional Council” (NTC) regime, meanwhile, is doing little to nothing to rein in the militias now ruling over much of Libya, according to the human-rights investigators. Instead, the new NATO-backed rulers — an odd coalition of former Gadhafi officials, Islamic extremists, and known terror leaders — are letting the armed groups run wild.

“Militias in Libya are largely out of control and the blanket impunity they enjoy only encourages further abuses,” said Donatella Rovera, a Senior Crisis Response Adviser with 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.”

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-Angelina Emily Grimke from “An Appeal to Christian Women of the South.”
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