Italy arrests ‘torturers’ after migrants denounce Libya camp horrors

Displaced children are seen at a school used as a shelter in Tajura neighborhood, east of Tripoli. (Reuters)
Updated 17 September 2019

Italy arrests ‘torturers’ after migrants denounce Libya camp horrors

  • The UN and aid groups have warned those returned face rampant human rights abuses in both official and illegal centers

ROME: Italian police arrested three people on Monday accused of the kidnap, torture and trafficking of migrants hoping to set sail from Libya to Europe.

Their accusers described a catalogue of abuse including the systematic rape of women and the murder of some migrants.

A 27-year old man from Guinea and two Egyptians, aged 24 and 26, were taken into custody in a detention center in Messina, Sicily, after police gathered testimony against them from other migrants.

The arrested men had crossed the Mediterranean themselves, landing in Lampedusa before being transferred to Sicily.

Witnesses said the three ran a prisoners’ camp in a former military base in Zawyia in Libya, where those ready to attempt the perilous sea crossing were forcibly held until they could pay a ransom.

Those interviewed said they had been “beaten with sticks, rifle butts, rubber pipes, whipped or given electric shocks,” and had seen other prisoners die, police said.

They had also been refused water or medical attention for their wounds or for diseases contracted in the camp, they said.

Anyone unable to pay up was passed on to other traffickers “for sexual and/or work exploitation,” or was killed. The testimonies were gathered from migrants spread in reception centers across Sicily and on the island of Lampedusa.

“All the women who were with us ... were systematically and repeatedly raped,” one witness was quoted as saying.

“They gave us seawater to drink and, sometimes, hard bread to eat. We men were beaten to get our relatives to pay sums of money in exchange for our release,” he said.

“I saw the organizers shoot two migrants who had tried to escape.”

Another said he was “whipped by electrical wires. Other times I was beaten, even around the head.”

One survivor described how the electric shocks “made you fall to the ground unconscious,” adding that he had “personally witnessed many murders by electric shock.”

Some migrants died of hunger, according to another cited witness, who described seeing a jailer “shoot a Nigerian in the legs for having taken a piece of bread.”

Libya, despite being wracked by chaos and conflict since the 2011 uprising that killed the dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has remained a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa.

According to figures from the International Organization for Migration in July, at least 5,200 people are currently trapped in official detention centers in Libya, often in appalling conditions.

There are no figures for the number of people held in illegal centers run by human traffickers, who brutally torture them to try to extort money from their families.

Italy’s tough line on migrants arriving from North Africa, and EU cooperation with the Libyan coast guard, has seen some of those attempting the crossing picked up at sea and returned to the chaos-wracked country.

The UN and aid groups have warned those returned face rampant human rights abuses in both official and illegal centers.


Afghan poll body misses announcing crucial presidential initial vote

Updated 2 min 21 sec ago

Afghan poll body misses announcing crucial presidential initial vote

KABUL: Afghanistan’s election commission conceded its failure to release initial presidential poll results set for Saturday and gave no new deadline for the vote which was marred by Taliban attacks and irregularities.
The presidential poll on Sept. 28 saw the lowest turnout of any elections in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ousting.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, the chief of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), blamed technical reasons, particularly slowness in entering data on to the server, for missing the timetable.
“Regrettably, the commission due to technical issues and for the sake of transparency could not announce the presidential election initial poll results,” she said in a brief announcement.
Without naming any camp, Nuristani also said: “A number of observers of election sides (camps) illegally are disrupting the process of elections.” She did not elaborate.
Nuristani said the results would be announced “as soon as possible,” while earlier in the day two IEC members said privately that the delay would take up to a week.
The delay is another blow for the vote that has been twice delayed to due to the government’s mismanagement and meetings between the US and the Taliban, which eventually collapsed last month after President Donald Trump declared the talks “dead.”
It further adds to political instability in Afghanistan, which has seen decades of conflict and foreign intervention and faced ethnic divides in recent years.
Both front-runners, President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s chief executive, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, have said that they expect to win.
The pair have been sharing power in Afghanistan as part of a US-brokered deal following the fraudulent polls of 2014.
The IEC has invalidated more than 500,000 votes because they were not conducted through biometric devices, bought for the vote from overseas to minimize the level of cheating in last month’s polls.
Officials of the commission said that nearly 1.8 million votes were considered clean and it was not clear what sort of impact the turnout would have on the legitimacy of the polls and the future government, whose main task will be to resume stalled peace talks with the Taliban.
They said that the slowness of data entry on to the server was one of the technical reasons for the delay in releasing initial poll results.
Yousuf Rashid, a senior official from an election watchdog group, described the delay as a “weakness of mismanagement,” while several lawmakers chided IEC for poor performance.
Abdul Satar Saadat, a former senior leader of an electoral body, told Arab News: “The delay showed IEC’s focus was on transparency” and that should be regarded as a sign that it took the issue of discarding fraudulent votes seriously.