Friday, January 27, 2012

MSF withdraws staff over Libya torture cases

(The Telegraph) Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it was withdrawing staff because it was effectively keeping prisoners alive so that authorities could continue to torture them.

The withdrawal came as Amnesty International reported separately that up to a dozen people had died after being tortured at the hand of the new National Military Security agency.
Senior UN figures expressed concern over the government's failure to exert control over militias, accused of rampant abuse of the estimated 8,500 held in arbitrary detention.

Christopher Stokes, the General Director of MSF, said the scale of torture in two detention centres in the city of Misurata was accelerating despite repeated pleas from the organisation for mistreatment to stop.
Some of the 115 inmates among the 1,500 strong prison population that MSF staff treated after torture were beaten so badly they could not stand, had suffered kidney failure and bore signs of electric shock.
Hundreds of prisoners, many of them black Africans, also told the organisation of suffering torture.
Mr Stokes said MSF medics feared that their work could be used to sustain the process of torturing prisoners. "When you patch people up and then they get taken back to be tortured again in the same evening, you become part of the process," he said.

"We have protested and in some cases they have said they will stop but in other cases they say it happens everywhere, like Abu Ghraib. If anything, the number of cases has been accelerating."

Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, said she had serious concerns over the fate of the 8,500 prisoners held in around 60 centres by revolutionary forces that were not accountable to a national government.
"The majority of detainees are accused of being Gaddafi loyalists and include a large number of sub-saharan, African nationals," she said. "The lack of oversight by the central authority creates an environment conducive to torture and ill treatment."

Amnesty said the Libyan authorities who moved to Tripoli as the new government in September had failed to open an inquiry into any of the cases it had documented.

"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, Amnesty Libya adviser. "We are not aware of any proper investigations into cases of torture, and neither the survivors or relatives of those who have died in detention have had any recourse to justice or redress for what they have suffered."
But Libya's defence minister angrily dismissed the Amnesty allegations as unsubstantiated.

Osama Jueili, the defence minister and head of the Zintan Brigade, one of the most active militias, said: "We have no documented cases and we guarantee access for the international NGOs to our prisons, including the Red Cross. If something happened in some unofficial territory it can happen like any place in the world.
"But on what basis do Amnesty say this? It is not correct. All jails are open to international organisations, including the Red Cross."

Ian Martin, the UN envoy for Libya, added a second warning that the new Libyan authorities were failing to exert authority in the former dictatorship.

As a result the law of gun dominated a country scarred by the dictatorship of Gaddafi.
"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," said Mr Martin. There were "weak, at times absent, state institutions, coupled with the long absence of political parties and civil society organisations, which render the country's transition more difficult".

Dave Hartwell, an analyst with IHS Global Insight, said the Western allies that had backed the uprising against Gaddafi had failed to provide enough support for the fledgling government. "We should have a better appreciation of what the Libyans are actually facing. A smooth transition hasn't happened," he said. "They are clearly having trouble exerting influence."

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