A recently leaked United Nations report claims that the new rulers of Libya have committed numerous human rights violations:
Thousands of people, including women and children, are being illegally detained by rebel militias in Libya, according to a report by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Many of the prisoners are suffering torture and systematic mistreatment while being held in private jails outside the control of the country’s new government.
The document, seen by The Independent, states that while political prisoners being held by the Gaddafi regime have been released, their places have been taken by up to 7,000 new “enemies of the state”, “disappeared” in a dysfunctional system, with no recourse to the law.
The report will come as uncomfortable reading for the Western governments, including Britain, which backed the campaign to oust Gaddafi....
The report says that “while political prisoners held by the Gaddafi regime have been released, an estimated 7,000 detainees are currently held in prisons and makeshift detention centres, most of which are under the control of revolutionary brigades, with no access to due process in the absence of a functioning police and judiciary.”
Of particular worry was the fate of women being held for alleged links with the regime, often due to family connections, sometimes with their children locked up alongside them.
“There have also been reports of women held in detention in the absence of female guards and under male supervision, and of children detained alongside adults,” says the report.
A number of black Africans were lynched following the revolution following claims, often false, that they were hired guns for the Gaddafi regime.
I have long expressed the concern that Libya’s new rulers might turn out to as bad or worse than the old (e.g. here and here). The leaked UN report provides further evidence showing that such concerns have a reasonable basis.
However, there are two important caveats. First, the UN is far from a completely reliable information source when it comes to human rights issues. Its record on such matters is a very poor one. The UN Human Rights Council, for example, is often stacked with egregious human rights violators, and, until recently, actively promoted violations of religious freedom and freedom of speech. Given the UN’s dubious record, it’s certainly possible that this report is either wrong or at least exaggerated. Second, even if the report is correct, the new Libyan regime might still be less bad than the old. Even a government that falls well short of being a paragon of liberal democratic virtue can still be better than Gaddafi’s dictatorship was.
Despite these important caveats, the new Libyan government certainly isn’t looking too good so far. And if radical Islamist elements in its leadership get the upper hand, things might get a lot worse before they get better.
The jury is still out on whether NATO intervention in Libya will achieve its original objective of improving respect for human rights in that country. The new Libyan government might yet clean up its act, or be forced to do so by Western pressure. On the other hand, President Obama’s war in Libya may turn out to have been counterproductive as well as illegal.