AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL : Libya – Government of National Unity must not legitimize militias and armed groups responsible for harrowing abuses

Members of the Internal Security Agency (ISA), a collection of powerful armed groups operating in eastern Libya, have committed harrowing human rights abuses to silence critics and opponents, including detaining them arbitrarily and subjecting them to enforced disappearances and torture, said Amnesty International.

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Libya’s parliament, the House of Representatives, is currently reviewing the government’s 2021 budget proposal, which earmarks funds for militias and armed groups with histories of abuse, including the ISA. Amnesty International is calling on the Government of National Unity (GNU) not to reward abusive militias and armed groups with legitimacy and salaries.

Former Muammar al-Gaddafi-era security officers of the ISA, a reviled security and intelligence body with unchecked powers, have re-emerged in recent years joining a collection of armed groups using the ISA name and operating in the strongholds of the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), commanded by General Khalifa Haftar.

“The Internal Security Agency armed groups have welcomed in their ranks Gaddafi-era officers and revived brutal tactics of repression. They have abducted, tortured and forcibly disappeared hundreds on the basis of their tribal affiliations or in reprisal for their opinions with the clear aim of crushing any criticism of those in power in eastern Libya,” said Heba Morayef, Regional Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Office.

“Instead of incorporating armed groups suspected of crimes under international law into state institutions and trying to secure their allegiance or score political points by granting them financial backing, the Government of National Unity and those with de facto control of territory must take steps to hold perpetrators to account. Any attempts to integrate members of militias or armed groups must involve rigorous and thorough individual vetting.”

Amnesty International interviewed 15 people, including former detainees, families of victims, activists and lawyers and found that ISA armed groups in the cities of Benghazi, al-Marj, Ajdabiya, Derna, and Sirte have targeted individuals on the basis of their tribal affiliations, as well as activists, journalists, and critics of the LAAF and affiliated armed groups who suffered abuses in 2020 and 2021. 

Return to Gaddafi-era repressive practices

Amnesty International found that heavily armed men affiliated to the ISA seized men, women and children from their homes, streets or other public places, without a warrant, sometimes blindfolding or fully covering their faces and physically assaulting them during their abduction. Those taken were held at locations controlled by the ISA without any access to lawyers and families for prolonged periods of time, in conditions that amount to enforced disappearances and facilitate torture and other ill-treatment. Since 2014, ISA members have abducted hundreds across LAAF controlled areas. READ MORE

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