U.N. says three Libya prisoners likely tortured to death

UNITED NATIONS Thu May 10, 2012 6:39pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Several prisoners likely were tortured to death at a detention center in Libya under government control, the United Nations said on Thursday as it urged the country to make stamping out such practices a top priority.

Libya's Justice Ministry has control of 31 detention centers with some 3,000 detainees, but about 4,000 prisoners are still in the custody of Libyan revolutionary brigades, U.N. special envoy for Libya Ian Martin told the U.N. Security Council.

Of the detention centers under government authority, Martin said "control over these facilities is often shared with other parties, including the brigades that had been running them."

The U.N. human rights agency and aid groups have accused the brigades of torturing detainees, many of whom are sub-Saharan Africans suspected of fighting for the toppled government of Muammar Gaddafi during Libya's nine-month civil war.

"Mistreatment and torture of detainees continue," Martin said. "UNSMIL (the U.N. Mission in Libya) expressed deep concern regarding the deaths of three individuals at a detention center in Misrata ... under the authority of the Ministry of Interior."

"The deaths all occurred on April 13 and we have credible information that they were a direct result of torture, as well as information that at least seven other persons were tortured at the same facility," he said.

Accusations of the mistreatment and disappearances of suspected Gaddafi loyalists are embarrassing for Libya's ruling National Transitional Council, which has vowed to make a break with practices under Gaddafi and respect human rights.

It is also awkward for the Western powers that backed the anti-Gaddafi rebellion and helped install Libya's new leaders.

The interim government was appointed in November to lead Libya to elections in June but is struggling to impose order on a country awash with weapons left over from the fighting.

Martin said allegations of torture had also been made at detention facilities elsewhere in Libya, including Tripoli, Zawiya and Zintan.

"Addressing these practices should be a top government priority in pursuit of a new culture of human rights and the rule of law in post-revolution Libya," he said.

Gaddafi's 42-year rule collapsed when his forces fled Tripoli in August, and the last of the fighting in Libya ended in October when he was captured and killed by rebels.

With Libya due to hold its first free election next month to choose an assembly to draft a constitution, Martin said between May 1-9 more than a million people had registered to vote, but that only 36 percent of them were women.

He said more than 1,100 individual candidates had registered along with 47 political entities. "Among individual candidates, however, the number of women coming forward has been extremely low - only 29 so far," Martin said.

"This is disappointing but unsurprising, as most women who want to run prefer to be included in the lists of political entities, which by law must include alternating male and female candidate," he said.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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