Libyan NTC Must Commit to Criminal Justice to Bolster Credibility

JURIST Guest Columnist Ottilia Maunganidze, Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, says that for the NTC to establish credibility it must put an end to unlawful detentions, make certain that any arrests are carried out by lawful police forces and ensure humane treatment of detainees…

On January 26, 2012, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, made a statement before the UN Security Council on the current human rights situation in Libya. In her statement, she highlighted key issues related to the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights. Pillay noted that the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya has taken some positive measures since coming into power in October 2011. However, she also highlighted that there had been reports of human rights abuses and that over 8,000 supporters loyal to the late leader of Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, were arbitrarily detained and are being held in appalling conditions. Pillay’s statement to the Security Council came just weeks before human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International (AI) released a report accusing the NTC of allowing the abuse and torture of supporters of former leader Gaddafi by unofficial militia. The AI report of February 16, 2012 underscores Pillay’s concerns. The report itself is a product of an AI fact-finding mission to Libya in January and February 2012. The mission visited 11 facilities in Tripoli, al-Zawiya, Gharyan, Misrata and Sirte. The facilities are all currently used as detention facilities for suspected Gaddafi loyalists.

AI’s report details systematic human rights abuses by militia of people in custody. People interviewed provided details of different forms of torture and resultant grievous bodily harm. According to the report, the alleged forms of torture used by the militia include, but are not limited to, beatings using various instruments such as sticks, whips and rifle butts. Several of the people interviewed by the AI mission said they suffered other forms of torture, including electric shocks, burns and threats of rape or death. In addition to those allegedly tortured, the mission also found that 12 detainees had died in custody.
Aid agency Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) has supported the findings of this report and Pillay’s statement to the Security Council. According to the MSF, forensic examinations of some of those who died in detention provide evidence that such methods are still being used. Furthermore, MSF reports that some of their staff were asked by the militia in detention in Misrata to patch up prisoners midway through torture sessions so they could be taken back for more abuse. MSF in January said that its doctors had treated 115 people since August 2011 who had torture-related wounds and of those two people had died.
If the reported human rights violations are true and the militia is responsible for them, then the militia has violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966 and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984, two international agreements to which Libya is a party. The ICCPR provides that everyone has the right to life and further that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.” In addition, both the ICCPR and the Torture Convention expressly provide that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Bearing this in mind, it is clear that the alleged perpetrators should be brought to book for the acts of torture and the reported deaths. The AI report recommends that the NTC abruptly put an end to the unlawful detentions and ensure that any arrests are carried out by lawful police forces, ensure humane treatment of detainees and investigate the reported deaths of prisoners. However, as noted by Pillay, the reason that these crimes have gone largely unpunished is because the NTC seems to lack the requisite systems to oversee activities across the country. Consequently, some regions are not governed by the NTC, but instead by the militia.

In 2011, the NTC vowed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses after AI released their September 2011 report, which alleged that both sides to the Libyan conflict were responsible for human rights violations. The NTC also currently has in detention International Criminal Court (ICC) accused Saif al-Islam and Abdullah al-Senussi, who they intend to prosecute domestically despite criticisms from the ICC and the international community. Indeed, to date, no efforts have been made to freely and fairly prosecute both sides to the conflict. Unfortunately, this state of affairs closely mirrors the lack of commitment to criminal justice on the part of the Gaddafi government throughout his 42-year rule. If the NTC is to establish itself as a legitimate government, it will need to address this fundamental issue as well as ensure that it has authority over areas currently controlled by different militia groups.

Ottilia Maunganidze is a Researcher for the International Crime in Africa Programme at the Institute for Security Studies. Her main focus is on criminal justice mechanisms to deal with international crimes and the promotion and protection of human rights. Previously, she worked as a research intern for the African Security Analysis Programme, as a junior legal advisor at the Rhodes University Legal Aid Clinic, and as a student human rights education coordinator for the Rhodes University chapter of Amnesty International.

Suggested citation: Ottilia Maunganidze, NTC Must Commit to Criminal Justice to Bolster Credibility, JURIST – Hotline, Feb. 27, 2012,

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