libya rebels ambulance helicopter
From: Inside Story

Who is really controlling Libya?

We ask if the interim government can assert authority amid claims that rebels are torturing suspected Gaddafi loyalists.

The UN has painted a disturbing picture of the situation in Libya.

The NTC is not fully in control of the country and it has a lot to do with how the country was liberated and how these militias came to be. Until there is a central authority with all the necessary institutions to defend and secure the country in place, there are only limited things that the NTC will be able to do. There are some 150,000 Libyans under arms and as many as 300 militias in the country.

– Bill Lawrence, International Crisis Group

Five months after the fall of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, the security situation is getting worse, not better.

Militias operating outside the control of the interim government – the National Transitional Council (NTC) – remain heavily armed and they continue to detain, and sometimes even torture, hundreds of prisoners suspected of being loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader.

Revolutionary forces were involved in recent fatal clashes in Tripoli, Bani Walid and Gharyan – in the west, and Benghazi in the east.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the international medical humanitarian organisation, has decided to suspend its operations in detention centres in Misrata after confirming that detainees are being tortured and denied urgent medical care.

The UN says Libyan militias are holding thousands of people in secret detention centres, while the interim government struggles to assert its authority.

Navi Pillay, the UN Human Rights chief, in a report to the UN Security Council said she is deeply concerned.

We know that at least 60 detention centres exist, of which only six are under the control of the authorities. We visited a number of them and have seen torture and other abuses in all of them … it is widespread. Many of the detainees we had spoken to did not know why they were being held.”

– Carsten Jurgensen, Libya researcher, Amnesty International

Pillay said Libya’s revolutionary forces were holding more than 8,000 prisoners in about 60 secret detention centres, most of them accused of being loyal to Gadaffi.

A large number of detainees come from Sub-Saharan African countries.  The UN says there is no central authority overseeing the informal prisons, so prisoners are not having their cases reviewed.

Abdurrahman Shalgham, the Libyan ambassador to the UN, has acknowledged the existence of such detention centres, and that they are not under government control.

So who actually controls Libya? And is the ruling National Transitional Council capable of holding the country together through this interim period?

Inside Story, with presenter James Bays, discusses with guests: Carsten Jurgensen, a Libya researcher for Amnesty International; Bill Lawrence, the North Africa project director for the International Crisis Group; and Faraj Najem, author of Tribes, Islam and state in Libya.

“The militias are divided along city or town lines. But the word militia does not fit the description of the Libyan scenario. These are revolutionaries with some fringe groups who sometimes take the law into their own hands and commit crimes such as torture. The cases in Misrata are marginal [albeit] horrible and not to be condoned, but we must also not forget the fact that Misrata is the town that was most brutalised by Gaddafi.”

– Faraj Najem, author and historian