New Libya 'stained' by detainee abuse: rights group
Libya's new authorities must stamp out arbitrary detention and widespread abuse of detainees, particularly those who fought for Moamer Kadhafi, to avoid a "stained" rights record, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
"There is a real risk that without firm and immediate action, some patterns of the past might be repeated," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
In a report published on Thursday, Amnesty said it had uncovered a pattern of beatings and ill-treatment of captured Kadhafi soldiers, suspected loyalists and alleged mercenaries in western Libya after interviewing approximately 300 prisoners in August and September.
Amnesty said militias have detained as many as "2,500 people in Tripoli and Al-Zawiyah," the majority of them without an arrest warrant, since forces loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC) seized the capital.
"In some cases there is clear evidence of torture in order to extract confessions or as a punishment," the report said.
The London-based rights group said detainees were almost always held by local councils, military councils or armed brigades, far from the oversight of the justice ministry, and mostly without the involvement of the general prosecution.
"They are vulnerable to abuse by armed militias who often act on their own initiative," Sahraoui said, underscoring that "arbitrary arrest and torture were a hallmark" of the rule of deposed strongman Moamer Kadhafi.
The report said detainees appear to suffer beatings and torture particularly at the start of their detention as a "welcome," and that two guards -- in separate detention facilities -- admitted to beating prisoners to extract "confessions" more quickly.
Particularly vulnerable to ill-treatment and arbitrary detentions, it said, were sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being mercenaries and black Libyans, especially from the Tawarga region, a key base for Kadhafi troops during the siege against the nearby city of Misrata.
Amnesty said children have been held together with adults, and women supervised by male guards.
"A 17-year-old boy from Chad accused of rape and being a mercenary told Amnesty International he was taken from his home in August by armed men who held him in a school where they punched him and beat him with stick, belts, rifles and rubber cables," the report read.
"The beatings were so severe that I ended up telling them what they wanted to hear. I told them I raped women and killed Libyans," said the boy quoted by Amnesty.
Amnesty researchers said they found similar torture instruments in one detention centre and heard the sound of whipping and screaming in another.
"The NTC has to act urgently to translate their public commitments into action, before such abuses become entrenched and stain the new Libya's human rights record," Sahraoui said, adding that "people must be allowed to defend themselves properly or be released.
Trial proceedings in western Libya have been suspended since the NTC took control in August, and since February in the east.
© 2011 AFP