Thousands of people, including women and children, are being illegally detained by rebel militias in Libya, according to a report by the Secretary General of the United Nations. Many of the prisoners are suffering torture and systematic mistreatment while being held in private jails outside the control of the new government.
Ban Ki-moon's report, seen by i, states that, while political prisoners being held by the Gaddafi regime have been released, their places have been taken by up to 7,000 new "enemies of the state", who have "disappeared" in a dysfunctional system, with no recourse to the law.
And the criticisms go wider, painting a grim picture of a lawless state which has a long way to go if it is to achieve stability: armed gangs engaged in internecine warfare for control of the streets, a cowed and impotent police force, and the racist mistreatment – and lynching – of black Africans accused of complicity with the regime.
The report will embarrass Britain and other Western governments which backed the campaign to oust Muammar Gaddafi. A UN resolution was secured in March in order to protect civilians from abuses by the regime.
There was evidence, says the report by Mr Ban, due to be presented to the Security Council, that both sides committed acts amounting to war crimes in the bitter battle for Colonel Gaddafi's home town, Sirte.
The report stresses that it is a matter of celebration that the country has been liberated after 42 years of totalitarian rule. The victorious opposition fully intends to follow a democratic path and to introduce a functioning legal system, he says. The report is to be circulated among members of the UN Security Council, and discussed next week.
Mr Ban also presents a grim scenario of the growing power of the armed militias that control the streets of many towns, including those of the capital, Tripoli, and the settling of internecine feuds through gun battles.
But the continuing human rights abuses, says the Secretary General's report, are the most pressing concern. The report says that "while political prisoners held by the Gaddafi regime have been released, an estimated 7,000 detainees are currently held in prisons and makeshift detention centres, most of which are under the control of revolutionary brigades, with no access to due process."
Of particular worry was the fate of women being held for alleged links with the regime, often due to family connections. "There have also been reports of women held in detention in the absence of female guards and under male supervision, and of children detained alongside adults," says the report.