Amnesty International: migrants and refugees face arbitrary arrest and torture in Libya, with no accountability for perpetrators or remedy for victims

by zoejardiniere

16.11.2012 Foreign nationals in Libya remain at risk of arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, exploitation, coercion, mistreatment and beatings so severe that they amount to torture, a new report by Amnesty International has shown. Migrants have no remedy against this treatment with no official body to protect their rights or to whom they can complain.

Amnesty International underlines its concerns over the resumption of dialogue between Libya and the EU on the subject of migration control and criticised the agreement that Italy signed in April 2012 with the Libyan authorities “to curtail the flow of migrants”. Amnesty International stresses, “Turning a blind eye to the dire human rights situation in Libya, the EU seeks to prevent at any cost foreign nationals from reaching Europe, including those fleeing war and persecution”.

Amnesty International representatives visited nine detention centres in Libya between May and September 2012. The majority of the detainees who were interviewed had been arrested, not by regular police officers, but by armed militiamen. According to Amnesty, detention centres in Libya are often run by militias, who act with impunity. Many said that raids on their homes were carried out violently, arbitrarily and without warrants. Others were caught when they attempted to leave Libya by boat and head towards Europe. The report highlights that survivors from wrecked vessels were taken in by Libyan security services and detained without any opportunity to challenge the reasons for their detention and without being given any information as to their fate. Libyan legislation allows for indefinite detention of foreign nationals pending deportation.

The report claims that conditions in detention centres in all cases fall far short of international standards, with overcrowding and poor hygiene. Men, women and children are held together in detention, and unaccompanied children are detained alongside adults who are unknown to them. Both men and women complained of ill-treatment as punishment for “disruptive behaviour”. According to the research, the most common punishment is beating for prolonged periods using metal wires, rubber hoses, sticks and water pipes, whilst some said they had been submitted to electric shocks and suspended in contorted positions. Women also reported sexual and gender-based violence, and none of the detention centres holding women had female guards. The individuals showed Amnesty International reporters injuries that were consistent with their testimonies of abuse.

In some detention centres, detainees complained of being forced to work for little or no remuneration, a high-level Libyan official is quoted saying that migrant detention “has become a business” in the country. Even outside of detention, foreign nationals are at risk of exploitation, as they have no recourse to remedy if their employer refuses to pay for their work.

According to Amnesty International, since the overthrow of Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, the proliferation of arms among the population of Libya, the rise of armed militia groups, and the general climate of lawlessness have led to a deterioration of conditions, particularly for Africans. There is a climate of racism and xenophobia, where Africans are blamed for crime and disease, and this has been exacerbated by widespread rumours of hired ‘African mercenaries’ who fought for the Gaddafi regime.

For further information:

–         The report is also available in French, Spanish and Arabic

–         Amnesty International Press Release, 13 November 2012

–         ECRE interview with Carmen Dupont Coordinator of Amnesty International’s ‘When you don’t exist’ campaign: “Fences and ditches won’t stop people from moving, they will only mean more people will die trying”, 2 November 2012