REUTERS - Libya’s aspirations to replace Muammar Gaddafi’s repressive rule with a just, democratic state are being undermined by armed militias who trample on human rights and are outside the government’s control, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
The militias spearheaded the rebellion that ended Gaddafi’s 42-year rule but they have so far refused to disband. With their heavily armed units patrolling the streets, they have more power on the ground than Libya’s official rulers.
Amnesty said in a report that its researchers had documented dozens of cases of militias committing war crimes, torturing detainees and forcing whole communities to flee their homes.
It said Libya’s interim leadership, the National Transitional Council (NTC), had to date failed to assert its authority over the militias by investigating the abuses.
“Militias in Libya are largely out of control and the blanket impunity they enjoy only encourages further abuses and perpetuates instability and insecurity,” said Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera.
“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.”
“It is imperative that the Libyan authorities firmly demonstrate their commitment to turning the page on decades of systematic violations by reining in the militias,” Rovera said in a statement.
The NTC’s ability to deal with the militias is limited because, as an unelected caretaker administration still trying to build a national police force and army, it is too weak to try to crack down.
The militia leaders profess loyalty to the NTC, but analysts say that they are using their military might as a bargaining chip to ensure they get the influence they believe they deserve in the new Libya.
In an interview with Reuters at the weekend, NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said a programme to integrate the militias into national security forces was making progress, though it was taking longer than planned.
Abdel Jalil also said that a committee had been set up to investigate reports that militias were torturing detainees, and that communities forced from their homes by the militias would be allowed to return home eventually.
In its report, Amnesty said it had collected evidence of widespread torture in militia-run detention centres. It said in one case its researcher witnessed armed militia members kicking an older detainee as he crouched against a wall.
The report said at least 12 detainees died from the abuse since September last year. Their bodies were covered in bruises and some had their fingernails pulled out, it said.
Amnesty said dark-skinned Libyans and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa were targeted by militia men because they were suspected of having fought for Gaddafi during the conflict.
The mostly dark-skinned residents of Tawerhga, east of Tripoli, had to flee their homes when militias from the nearby city of Misrata swept in. They were seeking revenge for what they perceived as Tawerhga’s support for Gaddafi.