Amnesty International called for the leaders of the state-funded, Stability Support Authority (SSA) militia to be held accountable for their crimes against migrants.
On Wednesday, it said that “entrenched impunity has emboldened the SSA militia to commit unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, interception and subsequent arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees, torture, forced labour, and other shocking human rights violations and crimes under international law.”
Created by government decree in January 2021, the SSA militia is commanded by one of the most powerful militia leaders in Tripoli, Abdel-Ghani Al-Kikli (Ghenwa). He was appointed, despite the well-documented history of crimes by militias under his command.
“Legitimizing abusive militia leaders and putting them on state payroll, with no questions asked only empowers them to continue trampling on the rights of more people with complete impunity,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“It can come as no surprise that Abdel Ghani Al-Kikli’s new militia is yet again involved in horrific crimes – whether against migrants and refugees or Libyans. For over a decade, militias under his command terrorized people in the Tripoli neighbourhood of Abu Salim, through enforced disappearances, torture, unlawful killings and other crimes under international law. He should be investigated and, if there is enough admissible evidence, prosecuted in a fair trial,” she added.
Amnesty wrote to the Libyan authorities regarding the complaints received against Ghnewa, and his former deputy, Lotfi Al-Harari on 19 April 2022. It demanded their removal from positions that would allow them to commit further violations, interfere in investigations, or grant them immunity, pending investigations. No response was received in time for publication.
An Amnesty delegation visited Libya in February, and spoke to nine people who said they suffered grave human rights violations at the hands of the SSA members. As well as eight family members, and three activists.
Ministry of Interior representatives in Tripoli confirmed that the SSA intercepts refugees and migrants at sea, and takes them to detention centres under their control. They said that the ministry has no oversight over the SSA’s operations, since it answers to the President, not the Minister of Interior.
SSA’s interceptions, since September 2021 have been marred by reports of violence, leading to loss of life at sea. On 18 February 2022, SSA forces were responsible for the death of one man, and the injury of others during the interception of a boat in the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Amnesty documented recent crimes, including enforced disappearances and deaths in custody by SSA militiamen. For instance, the body of a 34-year-old man was found with clear signs of torture in August 2021. He had been abducted days earlier by men affiliated with the SSA in Tripoli.
Six former detainees, held at a detention facility between 2016 and 2019 run by the Central Security Force-Abu Salim when Ghenwa was commander told Amnesty that they were “subjected to mock executions, food deprivation, beatings, electric shocks, sexual violence, and denial of medical care while in custody.”
The Government of National Unity’s (GNU) 2021 proposed budget allocated 40 million LYD (8.9 million USD) to the SSA, of which 5 million LYD (1.1 million USD) was for payroll. Additional ad hoc payments also take place: in February 2022, GNU Prime Minister Abdel-Hamid Dbaiba authorized a payment of 132 million LYD (around $28 million) to the SSA.
Since its founding, the militia rapidly expanded its influence beyond Tripoli to Al-Zawiya and towns in western Libya.