CAIRO — Libyan militias, including some affiliated with authorities, are holding thousands of prisoners in prolonged arbitrary and unlawful detention that includes torture, the United Nations said Tuesday.
Men, women and children across the country have been rounded up based on "tribal or family links and perceived political affiliations," and held with "little or no recourse to judicial remedy or reparations," while armed groups roam free with impunity, the organization said in its report .
U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said "the sheer horror and arbitrariness of such detentions" hits both victims and families, adding that "violations and abuses need to stop - and those responsible for such crimes should be held fully to account."
He urged Libyan authorities to take urgent action, with support from the international community.
"Rather than reining in armed groups and integrating their members under state command and control structures, successive Libyan governments have increasingly relied on them for law enforcement, including arrests and detention; paid them salaries; and provided them with equipment and uniforms," the report said.
As a result, their power has grown unchecked and they have remained free of effective government oversight, it added.
Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi. Today the country is ruled by rival governments in the capital, Tripoli, and in the east, each backed by a loose array of militias.
Abduction has also emerged as a lucrative trade amid the breakdown of authority. Gunmen kidnapped the mayor of a town south of Tripoli on Saturday, and last month the mayor of the capital itself was abducted from his home. The Tripoli mayor was later released.
The report puts the number of detainees at around 6,500 held in official prisons overseen by the Justice Ministry, but notes that no statistics are available for those held by other ministries or informal armed groups.