Tripoli, 1 October 2013:
Torture and killing of detainees in Libyan prisons is still happening according to a report issued today . . .[restrict]by UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The report, Torture and Deaths in Detention in Libya, said that such abuse of detainees continues despite the Government’s efforts. To help deal with the situation, it called for swift action to transfer detainees held by armed brigades to “effective state control” – in other words, prisons run by the Ministry of Justice.
It also demanded that efforts be intensified to build up the capabilities of the criminal justice system.
The report added that prolonged detention and interrogation at the hands of armed brigades without experience or training in the handling of prisoners or in conducting criminal investigations and with no effective judicial oversight create an environment conducive to torture or other ill-treatment. But when detention facilities have been handed over to trained officers of the Judicial Police, it noted, there had been marked improvements in the condition and treatment of detainees.
The report says its findings are based on information gathered first-hand during UNSMIL’s visits to nearly 30 detention centres over the past two years, including information from prisoners, family members, officials and civil society, as well as from documentation such as medical reports.
The report indicated that torture was widespread and most frequent immediately after individuals had been arrested and during the first days of interrogation to extract confessions and other information. Detainees, it stated, have usually been held without access to lawyers and with only occasional, if any, access to families. “The vast majority of the estimated 8,000 conflict-related detainees are also being held without due process.”
The report recorded 27 deaths in custody in which where “significant information suggests that torture was the cause of death”, since late 2011. Eleven of these, it said, happened this year “in detention centres that are under the nominal authority of the government but, in effect, are run by armed brigades”. In some cases, the report stated “members of the armed brigades freely admitted, and even tried to justify, the physical abuse of detainees”.
The UN said it had also received information on several other such cases during this period but was not able to fully document them.
Despite these human rights offenses, the Libyan authorities were committed “at the highest level” to securing the handover of detainees to the state, to ending torture, and to ensuring the proper functioning of the criminal justice system, the report stated.
“Since 2012, the Government has sought to bring armed brigades involved in detentions under the official authority of the State by affiliating them to specific ministries, even though in many cases the armed brigades have retained actual control of the detention centre,”
It also noted that in April this year, Congress had adopted a law criminalising torture, enforced disappearances and discrimination, providing for terms of imprisonment ranging from five years to life. In September, Congress adopted a new law on transitional justice requiring conflict-related detainees to be screened within 90 days.
According to the report, the UN had called on the Libyan authorities and the armed brigades to “accelerate the process of handing over detainees to the effective control of State authorities, and in the meantime take measures to protect detainees against torture or other ill-treatment”. The UN further recommended that Libyan authorities adopted a strategy “to screen and, where appropriate, release or charge and prosecute conflict-related detainees, in implementation of the Law on Transitional Justice”. The authorities should also build the capacity of the criminal justice system “to safeguard detainees against any form of abuse and end impunity for on-going violations”.
The prevailing situation of arbitrary detention and torture “runs against the very goals of the 17th of February Revolution of making a clean break with the systematic human rights violations of the former regime,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya Tarek Mitri was quoted as saying. He welcomed the proper transfer of detainees carried out by some brigades.
The report also noted that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had said that torture had been “a key tool of the previous repressive regime” and that she had called for full accountability for the crimes of the past as well as for “ongoing abuses”.
“Torture is illegal, under any circumstance, with no exceptions,” Ms Pillay was quited as saying. “The situation of detainees in Libya is alarming and while there has been some progress, there is an urgent need to renew efforts to prevent torture, investigate allegations of torture and prosecute those responsible.”
UNSMIL has a UN mandate to assist Libyans in promoting human rights. It includes supporting Libyan efforts against arbitrary detention and torture, by monitoring abuses in detention centres, advocating for remedial action, advising on judicial reform and building the capacity of Libya’s corrections system. [/restrict]