Tripoli, 14 July:
An estimated 5,000 people are still being held in militia-run detention facilities, two days after the deadline to hand them over to government control expired, Human Rights Watch said today.
Under Law 38, the ministries of interior and defence were required to refer all “supporters of the former regime” currently detained by militias to the competent judicial authorities by 12 July, provided sufficient evidence existed against them to bring a charge.
HRW accused the government of “a lack of political will” in challenging militias over the issue, and said it had “shied away from using force” as a way of compelling them to comply.
“We are not saying they should use force”, insisted Tripoli-based researcher Hanan Salah, when asked if HRW was advocating military action by the government to enforce its mandate, “we are just saying that they haven’t”.
The rights group claimed that some detainees were “subjected to severe torture” and that it receives new allegations of abuse “on a weekly basis”.
In addition, HRW has estimated that 4,000 detainees are now being held in state custody under the authority of the Ministry of Justice across eight regions.
The MoJ has said that around 3,000 detainees have been transferred to their control from militias since it started to assume responsibility for the country’s prisons earlier in the year.
Salah has said that conditions in state-run facilities are generally better than in militia-controlled centres, but that incidences of abuse still take place.
“I believe there has been a development [in state-run prisions] from the end of the conflict until now. Cases of ill-treatment have decreased, but we have been documenting severe cases in the past few months”, she said.
Last month, the Libya Herald conducted a visit of the notorious Ain Zara prison in Tripoli together with the International Centre for Prison Studies and found an impressively well-run and hygienic facility.
Most of the detainees in both state-run and militia detention centres are believed to be Qaddafi security force members, former Qaddafi government officials, suspected Qaddafi loyalists, suspected foreign mercenaries or migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
“Some have been detained for more than a year without being brought before a judge, as required by international law”, HRW claimed.
“Most have been denied access to lawyers, and in many cases, there appears to be no legal basis for their detention.”
The group demanded that anyone detained in official custody be brought before a judge and, if there is sufficient evidence, charged with a criminal offence. “If not, they should be immediately released”. HRW also said that “all detention outside the law and abuse in detention, including by militias, should be treated as a criminal act”.
HRW called on newly elected members of the National Congress to make addressing the issue of detention centres a priority. “There is no place for detention outside of the rule of law in the new Libya. The newly elected National Congress needs to take a stand to end these practices, and create a justice system that works”.