Abuse of BBC crew in Libya could amount to torture: Pillay

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UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Thursday that abuse suffered by three BBC journalists after they were detained by Libyan soldiers and secret police could amount to torture.

"For them to be targeted, detained and treated with such cruelty, which could amount to torture, is completely unacceptable and in serious violation of international law," the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

The three were beaten and subjected to a mock execution on Monday at a checkpoint 9.6 kilometres (six miles) south of Zawiya, where forces loyal to strongman Moamer Kadhafi are fighting vicious battles with rebels, according to the British broadcaster.

Pillay underlined that journalists in general took great risks to provide an accurate picture of what was happening in conflict zones and praised their "extremely important role" in revealing human rights violations.

"In this case, the crew's own experience provides a graphic example of the types of violations that are being committed in Libya."

"If an international television crew can be subjected to this type of treatment, it makes me extremely concerned about the treatment that is most likely being meted out to Libyan opponents of the regime who have fallen into the hands of the security services," she added.

The three men said they were taken to a military barracks in Tripoli where they "suffered repeated assaults" by members of Libya's army and secret police, before being released 21 hours later.

All three have now left the country.

The UN rights chief also underlined that the crew said they had seen terrible conditions in the detention centre where they were held, "including clear signs that other detainees had been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

That language is part of the International Convention Against Torture, one of the core international legal treaties against abuse. It has been ratified by Libya.

The International Criminal Court and an independent inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council are conducting investigations into suspected crimes against humanity during the unrest in Libya and other abuse.

Pillay said Libyan soldiers or policemen should not believe they could act with impunity.

"Be warned: whether you are ordering torture or carrying out the orders, you will be held personally criminally responsible," she said.

© 2011 AFP

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