TRIPOLI — The Libyan authorities should take immediate steps to assume custody of thousands of detainees still held by militias, a rights watchdog said on Saturday, after a deadline for a handover passed.
"Despite months of cajoling the militias, the transitional authorities missed the deadline and failed to gain control over approximately 5,000 people still held arbitrarily by armed groups, some subjected to severe torture," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
"These detainees and the approximately 4,000 others already in state custody should be granted their full due process rights," the New York-based group said in a statement.
HRW cited Law 38 passed on May 2 which required the ministries of interior and defence "to refer all supporters of the former regime," if there is enough evidence against them, to the judiciary by July 12.
Most detainees are members of Moamer Kadhafi's security forces, suspected loyalists of the slain dictator, former government officials, suspected foreign mercenaries, or migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, the watchdog said.
"The authorities have also shown a lack of political will to challenge the armed groups that fought against Moamer Kadhafi," HRW said, pointing to the absence of clear legal consequences for those who hold people outside the law.
The public prosecutor has convened committees under the justice ministry to screen detainees held in militia-run and state prisons in order to determine if they should be charged or released, the rights group said.
But some prisoners have been detained for more than a year without being brought before a judge, as required by international law, and most have been denied access to lawyers, it added.
"In many cases, there are appears to be no legal basis for their detention."
HRW reports have documented torture and maltreatment in facilities run by militias, including cases which it says have resulted in death.
"All detention outside the law and abuse in detention, including by militias, should be treated as a criminal act," it said, urging the newly elected General National Congress to end such practices and create a working justice system.