Libya: Is a breakdown in order forcing NGOs out?

 
Medecins Sans Frontieres staff treating a man in Misrata Medecins Sans Frontieres staff treating a man in Misrata

The decision by the French group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to withdraw its fieldworkers from prisons in the Libyan city of Misrata is an important and disturbing indicator of the situation in that country.

While some NGOs are guilty of trying to apply western 'best practice' in unrealistic ways, or to put the safety of their own teams ahead of project work, MSF's reputation, built over decades of operations in the most inhospitable parts of the world, suggests they should be listened to carefully both by the interim government in Libya and the western countries that assisted it to overthrow Muammar al Gaddafi's regime.

According to the NGO, in a few months its field workers have treated 115 people in the city's jail for wounds arising from torture.

"Patients were brought to us in the middle of interrogation for medical care, in order to make them fit for further interrogation", says MSF director Christopher Stokes, "this is unacceptable".

When one considers that this is just one city, it is not unreasonable to suppose that hundreds or even thousands of detainees have been abused in this way.

'Score-settling'

Apparently those subjected to this treatment have been removed from Misrata's prisons, taken to 'interrogation centres' run by various militias or state agencies before being returned with bad bruises, broken bones, and other signs of beating. Some are suspected of loyalty to the Gaddafi regime, others of criminality, and with some it is completely unclear.

Has Libya overthrown an oppressive, centralised, regime that relied upon torture, with one that also uses brutal methods but is so diffuse and divided along regional or tribal lines that it cannot run the country?

It is too early to write off the interim government, the revolution still has huge support, and it is natural that it should take time to establish a new democracy after 42 years of dictatorship.

However, the torture in Misrata and other places suggests that a great deal of score-settling is going on - much of it along tribal or local lines - and that it is not petering out in a way that many might have hoped.

Arbitrary detention and abuse now seem to be fuelling a new insurgency among former regime supporters in places like Sirte, Abu Salim (a neighbourhood of Tripoli), and Bani Walid, as well as feuds between tribes.

There have already been warnings to the Libyan government from the Foreign Office and State Department about the mistreatment of people in prison.

It does not appear that these have produced any effective action from the authorities.

Rather the arbitrary nature of the arrests, who is being beaten by whom, and the signs of new violence from former regime members and tribal enemies all suggest a situation in which authority is fragmenting.

 
Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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    Comment number 16.

    Libya: Is a breakdown in order forcing NGOs out?
    I don't believe Libyan NTG could care less whether NGOs stay or leave. Do we really think NTG cares about all of its population - even former Gaddafi-loyalists? World cares about Libyan oil, & nothing else. So the "world" (aka western world) will do what it needs, under humanitarian terms, to re-establish maximum oil productivity.

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    Comment number 15.

    Marauding militias, vie for power. Militias are scaring some foreign oil companies, delaying return of technicians. NTG Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said (in Benghazi) there are 2 options: deal with these violations strictly or split = civil war. Meanwhile EU faces loss @ 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil. Iran’s threatening stance over Hormuz, becomes optimally strategic.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    2 major oil companies = production levels back end of January - just in time to pick up slack if Gulf crude supplies are cut off in Iran Confrontation. Libyans are being wounded, tortured & killed, but oil firms repair oil industry. In fact, situation in oil fields seems to be fairly secure. Otherwise, 1/4 population out of work while Libya oil reserves are 47B barrels - largest in Africa.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    Apparently, draft allows 10% seats for women & prohibits individuals with dual citizenship from running unless they revoke non-Libyan nationality. SERIOUS FLAW: does not lay guidelines for electoral constituencies or electoral system.There are also political parties. I guess judicial rulings must come first re who is guilty of corruption, human right abuses or formerly pro-Gaddafi.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    Apparently, draft allows 10% of seats for women & prohibits individuals with dual citizenship from running unless they revoke their non-Libyan nationality. Serious flaw: does not lay guidelines for electoral constituencies or electoral system . Oh, there are also political parties. I guess judicial rulings must come first re who is guilty of corruption, human right abuses or formerly pro-Gaddafi.

 

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