Amnesty: GNU must not legitimize militias guilty of horrendous atrocities against civilians

Amnesty International calls on Libya's Government of National Unity not to reward violent militias for criminal and atrocious behavior by including them in the country's national budget

The NGO stated that legitimizing these groups is setting a dangerous precedent and a return to the previous violently oppressive regime. [Photo: AP]

Amnesty International has urged the Government of National Unity to oppose the integration of armed militias and organizations into the country’s military forces, describing it as a return to the oppressive Ghaddafi administration.

To intimidate critics and opponents, members of the Internal Security Agency (ISA), which is made up of strong-armed organizations operating in eastern Libya, have perpetrated a number of horrific human rights violations.

Amnesty warned that including funding for militias and armed groups with histories of abuse and human rights violations in the country’s yet to be approved national budget is rewarding criminal and atrocious behaviour and called on the GNU not to legitimize these groups.

A former Muammar al-Gaddafi security official of the ISA has returned to Libya in recent years to join a collection of armed organizations operating under the ISA moniker and under the leadership of General Khalifa Haftar.

“There are now Gaddafi-era officials in the ranks of the Internal Security Agency armed groups, who are using cruel methods to suppress the population.” Heba Morayef, Regional Director of Amnesty International’s the Middle East and North Africa Regional Office, said, “They have abducted, tortured, and forcibly disappeared hundreds of people on the basis of their tribal affiliations or in retaliation for their opinions with the clear aim of crushing any criticism of those in power in eastern Libya.”

“It is imperative that the Government of National Unity and those in de facto control of the country take steps to hold perpetrators accountable, rather than incorporating suspected international crimes into state institutions and attempting to secure their allegiance or score political points by providing them financial support. Members of militias or armed organizations must be thoroughly vetted before they may be accepted into the program.”

In 20 cities, Amnesty interviewed 15 people, including former detainees, families of victims and activists, as well as activists, journalists, and critics of the LAAF and other armed groups who suffered abuses.

The ISA abducted men, women, and children without a warrant from their homes, streets, or other public areas. They blindfolded or covered their faces, and physically assaulted them.

A large number of those arrested were detained for extended periods of time in places controlled by the ISA, without access to attorneys or relatives, in circumstances that amounted to enforced disappearances, as well as torture and other ill-treatment.

To extract information or confessions, all those interviewed by Amnesty International said that ISA members had beaten them or their loved ones with objects such as the backs of rifles and water pipes and had threatened them with execution, sexual violence, indefinite detention, and violence against their family members in order to extract information. Aside from living in filthy, overcrowded and unventilated quarters, former prisoners also reported being fed a little amount of food and being subjected to forced work.

After publishing a social media post critical of steps intended to prevent Covid-19’s spread, a man was arrested in mid-2020 by members of an ISA group in eastern Libya, he informed Amnesty International in 2020. A member of the International Security Agency (ISA) accused him of heresy and of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. He claimed he was beaten with guns and water pipes, as well as punched and kicked, for four days.

Members of the Maghabra tribe in Ajdabiya told Amnesty International they had been tortured by the ISA because they were believed to be related to Ibrahim Jadran, former head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), an armed organization hostile to LAAF. Allegedly, they assaulted him with water pipes and bound his leg with barbed wire.

As a consequence of their apparent resistance to the LAAF, women are also kidnapped and illegally deprived of their freedom by the ISA. Due to her public demands for justice for her mother’s death, ISA Benghazi members kidnapped Haneen al-Abdul, the daughter of murdered lawyer Hanan al-Barassi on 25 March 2021 and held her until 28 June 2021.

Military trials were held in eastern Libya for hundreds of individuals arrested by the ISA, some of whom had been held for years without trial. Many of the others were freed without prosecution after they were made to sign statements pledging not to criticize the LAAF and associated armed organizations, especially on social media, or to abstain from leaving specific regions,

Former prisoners and activists informed Amnesty International that as a consequence of this, and out of fear of retaliation, they have refrained from openly exercising their right to free speech or have sought to flee eastern Libya.

In the months preceding up to his kidnapping on 3 June 2021 by unidentified armed men, the ISA in Ajdabiya summoned activists and director of the Ajdabiya branch of the Red Crescent, Mansour Atti, numerous times before he was kidnapped. His fate and current whereabouts are unknown.

“The Government of National Unity and the Libyan Arab Armed Forces must take urgent action to secure the release of all individuals detained simply for voicing critical views or for tribal connections. It is appalling that, rather than seeking accountability and ending the pattern of abuse by the Internal Security Agency, Libyan authorities are once again legitimizing and appeasing unaccountable militias and armed groups,” said Heba Morayef.

The GNU’s current draft budget, released on 3 August and yet to be approved by Libya’s parliament, provides money to militias and armed organizations operating across the country. The plan gives the ISA 260 million LYD (57 million USD) and the LAAF 2.5 billion LYD (550 million USD).

The budget also allocates funds to other abusive and unaccountable militias nominally under the control of the GNU and operating in western Libya, including 146 million LYD (32 million USD) to the Special Deterrence Forces (Radaa), under the command of Abdel Raouf Kara, 40 million LYD (8.9 million USD) to the Stability Support Agency, led by Abdulghani al-Kikli, known as Gheniwa and 35 million LYD (7.8 million USD) to the Public Security Agency led by Emad al-Tarabulsi.

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