'Free' Libya shamed by new torture claims

Libya slips back towards the barbarism of Gaddafi

The moral authority of Libya's new government was called into question by two international aid groups yesterday as confidence begins to falter that the National Transitional Council, backed by Western governments in last year's civil war, can deliver on its promises to deliver freedom and democracy.

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) brought an abrupt halt to its operations in the Libyan town of Misrata after being asked by officials to treat torture victims, in some cases to allow members of the country's new leadership to abuse the prisoners again.

The move came as Amnesty International said it has collected evidence that Gaddafi supporters had been tortured to death in makeshift detention centres.

The claims by MSF in Libya's third largest town – a centre of resistance against the Gaddafi regime last year – come amid growing concern for the security situation and evidence of human rights violations. Earlier this week, fighters loyal to the former dictator raised the old Libyan green standard above the key oil town of Bani Walid after fighting that led to at least four deaths.

Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns that local authorities have routinely used torture against suspected opponents. In particular, they warned that sub-Saharan Africans, who were accused of being mercenaries during the nine-month conflict, are being targeted. MSF has been working in Misrata since last August and the group says it has been increasingly confronted with patients who have injuries caused by torture during interrogation sessions outside official detention centres and jails.

MSF has treated 115 people with torture-related wounds and reported all the cases to authorities in Misrata. Since January, several of the patients who were returned to interrogation centres have been tortured again, MSF said in a statement. "Some officials have sought to exploit and obstruct MSF's medical work," said the charity's general director, Christopher Stokes. "Patients were brought to us for medical care between interrogation sessions, so that they would be fit for further interrogation. This is unacceptable.

"Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions."

Other humanitarian groups have raised fears. Amnesty International revealed that several prisoners accused of being Gaddafi loyalists died as a result of torture while being held in makeshift detention centres. Delegates from the group had found visible evidence of torture on detainees during visits to prisons.

The United Nations envoy to Libya, Ian Martin, said the NTC was failing to rein in militia groups: "The former regime may have been toppled, but the harsh reality is that the Libyan people continue to have to live with its deep-rooted legacy."

The allegations come almost a year after the start of the uprising against Gaddafi's 40-year rule. After initially being brutally suppressed, the rebel movement blossomed with assistance from a Nato bombing campaign.

Speaking in August last year, David Cameron said: "There will undoubtedly be difficult days ahead. No transition is ever smooth or easy.

"But today the Arab Spring is a step further away from oppression and dictatorship and a step closer to freedom and democracy. And the Libyan people are closer to their dream of a better future."

Last night, the Foreign Office urged the NTC to investigate the charities' reports. "The MSF report is shocking and the Libyan authorities should thoroughly investigate the claims. We condemn all human rights abuses and have repeatedly made clear that the transitional government must live up to the standards that it has set for itself and make a clean break with the past," a spokesman said.

In its report, Amnesty said it had found that detainees had been suspended in contorted positions, beaten for hours with whips, cables, plastic hoses, metal chains and bars and wooden sticks, and given electric shocks with live wires and Taser-like electro-shock weapons.

"After all the promises to get detention centres under control, it is horrifying to find that there has been no progress to stop the use of torture," said Donatella Rovera, of Amnesty.

Last July, Human Rights Watch reported widespread looting and arson by the Nato-backed rebels.

What has gone wrong, and what needs to be done?

The growing anti-government protest movement

The country is run by the National Transitional Council (NTC), whose popularity has waned since the revolution. Critics say it lacks transparency, has been slow to restore basic public services and that too many of it members are tainted by their previous roles in Gaddafi's regime. Since October, there have been protests in Benghazi, where the revolution first began in February last year. These reached a head on 21 January, when armed protesters stormed the NTC's headquarters there, hurling grenades and homemade bombs while the council's chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, was inside. The NTC has promised to disband once elections are held for an interim government. Voting is scheduled to take place in six months, but there are fears they could be postponed.

 

The lawless militias

The ragtag rebel army, that surprised the world when it successfully marched on Tripoli last year, is being slowly disbanded. But it's not soon enough for many Libyans. In recent months, there have been several fatalities as militias from rival cities clash. This week, four were killed in fighting in Bani Walid. A plan to reintegrate the fighters by enrolling them in the armed forces has had limited uptake. In Wednesday's UN report, Libya envoy Ian Martin warned that the NTC had failed to bring the armed militias under control and that these clashes could escalate.

 

The defeated Gaddafi loyalists

Many of Gaddafi's most high profile supporters have fled the country. His family members are either dead, exiled or imprisoned. But it's another story for the lower-level supporters and the thousands who fought the late dictator's army. The UN report said delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross reported viewing over 8,000 detainees in 60 makeshift detention centres around the country. Some form of justice will eventually have to be meted out to these inmates, but so far there has been little discussion of what form this might take. Some of those who "lost" in the civil uprising have experienced vigilante justice at the hands of the NTC's fighters, who have been responsible for looting, arson and extra-judicial killings in pro-Gaddafi towns such as Sirte and Tawargha. Preventing revenge attacks and healing the wounds of the conflict must be one of the NTC's priorities.

 

The fate of Saif al-Islam

Gaddafi's most prominent son, below, and one-time heir apparent is being held in the small mountain town of Zintan, an hour's drive south of Tripoli. He's been there since he was captured in November. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in June last year – but the militia fighters who captured hold him say they want to try him in the country, where if convicted, he would face the death penalty.

 

Getting business going again

Economic grievances were at the heart of the Arab Spring – and the revolt in oil-rich Libya. But three months on from the death of Gaddafi, banks are still not fully operational and there is a cap on cash withdrawals which means businesses relying on regular cash flow are struggling. There is also uncertainty over whether – as an unelected government – the NTC can authorise the deals needed to unlock the country's potential.

 

Missing people

Thousand of people are still missing. Some were killed in fighting, while others kidnapped by Gaddafi's forces. Many disappeared in prisons under the former regime or are in makeshift detention centres. A database of all the people still missing is being compiled, and DNA samples are being taken from mass graves being excavated. But it will be some time before the thousands can be identified.

 

Border security

Libya's southern border with Chad, Niger and Mali, is notoriously difficult to police. The area has long been a conduit for weapons and migrants from sub-Saharan African coming into southern Europe. This flow of weapons has long worried Libya's neighbours and the international community, which are fearful they could fall into the hands of terrorist groups active in the region.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution