TRIPOLI – Nafisa Muhammad knows all too well that vengeance is alive and well in post-revolution Libya. “One of my brothers was kidnapped by rebels from Misrata at Benghazi airport," she says. "On his first day at a local detention center, he was beaten to death.”
The 31-year-old woman now lives in a refugee camp in Fillah, in the northwest of Libya. Her cousin was also a victim of the post Gaddafi-era. He was burnt to death along with other loyalist combatants who had remained faithful to Gaddafi. Former rebels locked them in a fire truck, splashed it with gasoline and set it on fire. Footage of mutilated corpses was then sent to their relatives, as payback for the atrocities perpetrated by Gaddafi’s supporters against the people of Misrata during the city’s siege in March 2011. A few months after the revolution, ethnic and politically fueled violence is still very common.
A large majority of the 74,000 displaced people in Libya are living in appalling conditions, according to the UNHCR Refugee Agency. The 25 to 30 detention centers – official or secret – and refugee camps are run by the government, army and police or by local militias. Most receive help from international and Libyan NGOs but their means are limited.
One of the consequences is the high number of miscarriages due to a lack of care and bad treatment in the camps. In the detention centers, cells are overcrowded while the local militias dish out their arbitrary justice. The inmates, who are predominantly black, are deprived of food and water.
Arbitrary detention, torture
Human Rights Watch raised the alarm in mid-July, saying that the Libyan government should take immediate steps to assume custody of all 5,000 detainees still held by militias, with some subjected to severe torture. According to the international human rights organization, these prisoners are Gaddafi’s security force members, former government officials, foreign mercenaries and migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Muftha is the displaced persons’ coordinator at the Fillah refugee camp. He refuses to give his last name for safety reasons. Muftha comes from a city famous for supporting Gaddafi during the war. Now he is afraid of being kidnapped by militias if he leaves the camp - and that he will disappear, never to be seen again. “Although we are free to enter and leave the camp, most of us don’t. We rely on women to bring food back from outside.”
According to Samuel Cheung, the person in charge of safety issues at the UNHCR in Tripoli, many displaced people left their hometown because of clashes between rival militias. Some of these clashes date back to the Gaddafi era. They are related to tribal land disputes – an important source of tension in today’s Libya. This adds another threat to the fragile stability of a country in search of democracy.