Foreign Policy Blogs

A Failure of Civilian Protection – Libya

News from Libya that torture is occurring in state and militia-administered detention facilities is horrific, but should be of little surprise. Amnesty International’s recent statements assert that torture is a wide-spread practice in Libya and has resulted in several deaths. The statements further that no investigations are occurring. Add to these statements a recent announcement by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) that it has suspended its activity in Misrata’s prisons because prisoners are being tortured and denied medical care. Moreover, MSF’s announcement asserts that it was being used, in effect, to prolong torture: prisoners were sent to MSF staff for treatment so that they could then be submitted to further torture.

MSF’s role in the conflict is sensitive because it needs to maintain access to treat the victims of conflict; however, I find it discouraging that other agencies, such as Amnesty, are not offering up constructive criticism on what should be done about the abuses. The international community let out a limited outcry following clear signs of extra-judicial killings in Libya (e.g., Muammar Gaddafi’s death) and did not move to provide Libya with assistance to ensure that similar abuses would not persist. In short, Amnesty is right to draw attention to the horrible state of human rights in Libya but, as of yet, they are not offering up any recommendations on how Libya’s clearly limited government can tackle the problem.

With this, why aren’t we seeing positive steps taken by the Arab League, Turkey, Qatar, the UN, etc. to provide the National Transitional Council (NTC) with assistance to reign in the militias, establish a substantive system to ensure the protection of detainees, and ensure the parties are meeting international humanitarian law standards?

Civilian protection is more than just drawing attention to a problem – it’s about laying out steps that states and other actors can take to effectually safeguard civilians from violence, torture, and intimidation. In this regard, we have failed those Libyans who continue to find themselves victims of violence.

(Photo Credit: Marco Longari, AFP, Fighters with the National Transitional Council from the Tripoli Brigade guard blindfolded prisoners outside Bani Walid)



Ali A. Riazi
Ali A. Riazi

Ali is an independent advisor on conflict and foreign affairs and an advocate for civilian protection. He has advised the Office of the Secretary of Defense, US military, NGOs, and intelligence oversight staff on topics, such as Afghanistan, civilian protection, irregular warfare, and civil-military affairs. His 13+ years of career experience have spanned humanitarian and national security circles and involved extensive experience throughout the Near East and Central Asia.

Ali earned a BA in Government & Politics (summa cum laude) and a Minor in International Development & Conflict Management from the University of Maryland, College Park. Additionally, he served as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in International Political Economy. He is currently pursuing an MLitt in Terrorism Studies through the University of St. Andrews.

Ali's other blog interests can be followed at, and he can be found on Twitter at!/ali_riazi.

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