Libya: University professor latest in string of victims targeted in epidemic of militia abductions

The continuing rise in abductions at the hands of militias highlights how the absence of the rule of law in Libya is fuelling chaos and lawlessness and leaving civilians in the country living in fear, said Amnesty International today. Kidnappings of civilians by militias, often for ransom, have risen sharply since 2014, particularly in the west of the country, where hundreds have gone missing and abductions have become a feature of daily life.

Among the latest victims to go missing is Tripoli University professor Dr. Salem Mohamed Beitelmal, who was abducted over two weeks ago not far from his home in the area of Siyyad on the outskirts of Tripoli. His whereabouts remain unknown and his family have had no contact with him since his abduction.

“The case of Salem Beitelmal illustrates the constant dangers posed to civilians by militias who have continued to intimidate the population, instilling fear and dread through a ruthless campaign of abductions."

Heba Morayef, North Africa Research Director at Amnesty International

“The case of Salem Beitelmal illustrates the constant dangers posed to civilians by militias who have continued to intimidate the population, instilling fear and dread through a ruthless campaign of abductions. It also highlights the complicity of political and state officials who have thus far failed to put a halt to this lucrative practice by militias,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa Research Director at Amnesty International.

“The authorities must take all measures to end the cycle of violence and fear civilians in Libya are living under today, by effectively investigating such crimes and bringing those suspected of responsibility to justice.”

Dr. Salem, a professor with the Department of Maritime Engineering at Tripoli University, went missing while he was on his way to work on 20 April 2017. At around 10 o’clock that morning neighbours found his car abandoned on a street not far from his home. All efforts by the family to identify his whereabouts so far have failed.

Siyyad, the area where the abduction took place, is controlled by several militias. Some operate nominally under the authority of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence. No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction and it remains unclear which militia is holding him.

Fears are also growing for Dr. Salem’s health as he suffers from a pre-existing health condition and requires continued medication.

Libyan activists and journalists alike have identified abductions as one of the most harrowing realities of daily life in Libya today. According to  there were at least 293 abductions between 15 December 2016 and 31 January 2017. Many families choose not to report cases of abductions for fear of reprisals and as a result many incidents go undocumented.

Most abductions are carried out with the aim of extracting as high a ransom as possible from the families, or in some cases to negotiate an exchange of detainees. Abductions are also used as a tactic by militias to silence opponents, journalists, and human rights defenders who are critical of them. Individuals have been targeted based on their perceived political or tribal affiliations or their occupation or apparent wealth, in order to extract sensitive information or hefty ransom sums.

Rival armed groups and militias in Libya have been carrying out gross human rights abuses with near total impunity. Even those operating under the UN-backed government affiliated to the Ministry of Defence or under nominal control of the Ministry of the Interior are not subjected to any effective supervision or control by the central authorities.

“The epidemic of abductions highlights the lack of effective control by any faction claiming legitimacy on the ground,” said Heba Morayef.

“Restoring the rule of law must be an absolute priority. This includes authorities ensuring that those suspected to be responsible for abductions, enforced disappearances and other crimes under international law are prosecuted in fair proceedings and finally brought to justice. It’s time to stamp out the pervasive culture of impunity which has emboldened perpetrators of these crimes so far.”

Amnesty International calls on Libya’s Government of National Accord to carry out a full investigation into all abductions of civilians in Libya to ensure the quick and safe return of hostages, including Dr. Salem Beitelmal.

“The international community must no longer ignore the issue of abductions in its talks with different militias and political actors. Turning a blind eye to these abhorrent crimes will only fuel the cycle of impunity,” said Heba Morayef.

Amnesty International is also calling on the political actors in Libya to help bring abuses to an end by cutting off financial support for militias responsible for criminal activity.

Amnesty International continues to call on the International Criminal Court, which has committed to prioritizing ongoing abuses by armed groups in its investigations, to examine crimes committed by all sides since 2011. So far, there have not been any meaningful investigations into crimes allegedly perpetrated by armed groups affiliated with successive governments in Libya. The international community also has a key role in terms of providing support for the ICC investigation and ensuring the return of the rule of law to Libya.