Libya: End rampant abductions by armed groups

Rampant abductions by armed groups have become a part of daily life in Libya, said Amnesty International as it launched a campaign digest, ‘Vanished off the face of the earth’: Abducted civilians in Libya, calling for an end to an epidemic of kidnapping blighting the country.

More than 600 people have gone missing between February 2014 and April 2015 according to the Libyan Red Crescent Society (LRCS), and the fate and whereabouts of at least 378 remain unknown, though the real numbers are likely to be much higher.

“Civilians in Libya are living on a knife edge. Widespread lawlessness and chaos have been exacerbated by routine abductions, as armed groups tighten their stranglehold on the country,” said Said Boumedouha, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“Hundreds of civilians have been abducted on a whim simply because of where they are from, or because they are believed to support a rival political group. In many cases, they are kept hostage to pressure an armed group into a prisoner exchange or to coerce the family to pay a ransom.

The collapse of central authority and the absence of law enforcement and a functioning justice system in Libya has created an atmosphere of pervasive impunity which has allowed perpetrators of such abductions to evade prosecution and accountability.”

Civilians in Libya are living on a knife edge. Widespread lawlessness and chaos have been exacerbated by routine abductions, as armed groups tighten their stranglehold on the country

Said Boumedouha, Acting Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International

Hostage-taking of civilians is prohibited under international humanitarian law and during a conflict amounts to a war crime.

Amnesty International is calling on the international community to increase its support to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Libya. So far the ICC Prosecutor has failed to undertake any investigations into crimes under international law committed by armed groups since 2011.

Those abducted by armed groups are routinely tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. Many are beaten, threatened with death, held blindfolded for several days, verbally and physically assaulted and often tortured with electric shocks or forced into stress positions. Several have died after being tortured or were summarily killed – their bodies later dumped on the side of the road.

Armed groups must release all civilians, treat all detainees, including captured fighters, humanely, and disclose information about the fate and whereabouts of missing persons. Anyone in detention should also be allowed to have regular contact with their families.

Those abducted include activists, public officials and other civilians seized by unknown assailants based on their political affiliations or in relation to their work.

Among them are 71-year-old former General National Congress member, Suleiman Zobi, and Abdel Moez Banoun, a political rights activist and blogger, who was kidnapped from a parked car near his home after speaking out against the presence of militias in Tripoli and organizing protests on this theme. Abdel Moez Banoun has been missing for more than 300 days. His brother said he had “vanished off the face of the earth”. Nasser al-Jaroushi, a prosecutor, was abducted after investigating the murder of human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis as well as looking into criminal drug gangs. 

Humanitarian aid workers Mohamed al-Tahrir Aziz, Mohamed al-Munsaf al-Shalali and Waleed Ramadan Shalhoub were abducted on 5 June as they were on their way to distribute supplies to towns affected by fighting in south-west Libya.

Others who face abductions include migrant workers, foreign consular staff, and members of the Tawargha community who were displaced from their hometown in 2011.

Amnesty International’s campaigning effort, launched today, calls on armed groups to break the pattern of abductions and take a public stand by condemning abductions and torture.

Hostage-taking is a war crime. Abduction of civilians in Libya must end NOW #LibyaWarCrimes #EndAbduction

The ongoing UN-sponsored political dialogue which aims to end the violence and form a Government of National Accord also plans to address abductions and illegal detention as part of a set of confidence-building measures. Participants to the dialogue, including local municipal leaders, must now exercise their influence with commanders of armed groups and intervene for the release of all abducted civilians.