7,000 held in Libya's new reign of fear and torture
- UN raises concerns of torture and ill-treatment
- Many held simply because they have darker skin
By Tom Leonard
Thousands of people including women and children are being held illegally and tortured by rebels who helped oust Colonel Gaddafi, according to a UN report.
Around 7,000, many of them foreigners, are behind bars in private prisons and makeshift detention centres, beyond the control of the new Libyan government and without access to any legal redress.
The report by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be embarrassing for Britain and other governments which supported the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime despite concerns about who would take power in their place.
Racism? Fighters loyal to the NTC hold captive a sub-Saharan African man suspected of working as a mercenary for Gaddafi in this August 25 photo
Many of the detainees are sub-Saharan Africans whom their captors accuse of being Gaddafi mercenaries, based in some cases purely on the fact that they have darker skin. The women and children are being held with them, under the control of male-only guards.
‘Some detainees have reportedly been subjected to torture or ill treatment,’ the UN said.
While political prisoners jailed by Gaddafi have been freed, the militias’ prisoners have no access to the courts ‘in the absence of a functioning police and judiciary’, it added.
Most policemen have failed to return to work in the lawlessness that grips Libya while the court system has been paralysed by a lack of security and absenteeism by judges and administrative staff.
Out of control: Libyan rebel fighters question an African man as they search for Gaddafi army soldiers in Tripoli on August 22, 2011
While the new government tries to assert control over the chaos, UN officials and foreign diplomats warn that the ‘revolutionary brigades’ that united to drive out Gaddafi’s forces are largely tribal and have kept significant control in their own regions.
The report also said there were ‘disturbing’ claims of war crimes being committed by both sides as they fought for control of Sirte, the town where Gaddafi was captured and killed last month.
As an example of the atrocities committed by the rebels, the report highlighted the town of Tawerga, whose inhabitants have been accused of siding with Gaddafi during the civil war.
The UN said Tawergas are ‘reported to have been targeted in revenge killings, or taken by armed men from their homes, checkpoints and hospitals and some allegedly later abused or executed in detention’.
The UN also warned that a vast arsenal of surface-to-air missiles, known as Manpads, had been accumulated in Libya, further worsening the security situation there.