• Sheet of paper Report

Libya: Rule of Law or Rule of Militias?


'[The militiamen] would not listen. They beat me with belts on my back, hands, legs. They threatened to kill me. Eventually I said "just write what you want, and I will sign".'

A 23-year-old man describing his treatment while detained in March 2012 by a militia in eastern Libya

Two sisters aged 27 and 32 were stopped by a militia at a checkpoint in February 2012 and forced at gunpoint to a nearby farm. One was suspended from a door for hours, had boiling water poured over her head, and was beaten and stabbed while being accused of supporting the former government of Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi. The other was also suspended and beaten. The husband of one of them, who was detained at the same time, has disappeared.

This family is among the mounting toll of victims of an increasingly lawless Libya, where the transitional authorities have been unable or unwilling to rein in the hundreds of militias formed during and after the 2011 conflict that ended the rule of Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi. The militias are now threatening the very future of Libya and casting a shadow over landmark national elections scheduled for July 7, 2012. They are killing people, making arbitrary arrests, torturing detainees and forcibly displacing and terrorizing entire communities, often solely for reasons of revenge. They are also recklessly using machineguns, mortars and other weaponry during tribal and territorial battles, killing and maiming bystanders. They act above the law, committing their crimes without fear of punishment.


Government shortcomings and delays in addressing militia abuses are undermining the aspirations of the Libyan people, who bravely took to the streets in early 2011 to end decades of repression and injustice. Unless urgent action is taken to establish the rule of law and respect for human rights, there is a very real risk that the patterns of abuse that inspired the "February 17 Revolution" will be reproduced and entrenched.