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UN Investigating Allegations of Torture in Libya

  • Lisa Schlein

UN Special Investigator on Torture Juan Mendez (file photo)

UN Special Investigator on Torture Juan Mendez (file photo)

The new United Nations special investigator on torture says he has received allegations of torture in Libya, which have come to light since fighting erupted last month. He says he will be looking at these cases.

Juan Mendez says he and other human rights experts have received allegations of abuse, including torture, arbitrary detentions and extra-judicial killings, in Libya.

But under the rules of his mandate, he says he cannot disclose the content of these communications until the final results of the investigations are in. And that, he adds, might take some time as these events are fairly recent.

“But I can confirm that we are working on some complaints about mistreatment," said Mendez. "The same complaints obviously talk about violations that are much more visible on television and on the news like…attacks on peaceful demonstrations and extra-judicial executions.…And, yes, I am working on allegations that we have received since the disturbances began in Libya.”

Mendez says, so far, he has received only allegations of torture perpetrated by the Gadhafi government. He says he has not received any allegations of wrongdoing, including torture, on the part of the rebels.

Turning to Tunisia and Egypt, the U.N. human rights expert says many factors were involved in the revolutions that erupted in those countries. But he says since everyone knows a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance who was tortured, it is quite likely this, too, played a role in the recent uprisings.

“I think that the new regimes that will come out of these upheavals will very probably try to do everything different," he said. "And one of the things they have to do different is the use of torture, especially as both Tunisia and Egypt were notable for their extensive use of cruel practices of interrogation.”

Mendez says he is ready to assist the new Tunisian and Egyptian governments to draft laws that will protect their citizens against torture and against cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment. He says there are signs that requests for assistance are being made.

“I have not had any direct requests, but I have heard via NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that have networks in those countries that those requests, at least in regards to Tunisia, will be forthcoming," said Mendez.

Mendez says he has received an official invitation to conduct a fact-finding mission in Ivory Coast from the government of Allasane Ouattara. He says the dates for the visit are uncertain but that political developments on the ground will have to be stabilized before he can act on the invitation.

The U.N. official says he has received allegations of torture from Ouattara’s people. He adds he also has received allegations from civil society organizations.