Human rights activists say that the number of enforced disappearances in Libya rose sharply in recent years, raising fears about the fate of those who disappeared.
Enforced disappearance rates rose in the course of the instability and political turmoil in countries like Libya where armed militias have considerable power, making it difficult to keep track of those who may be kept in secret jails, Ahmed Abdullatif, lawyer at the legal unit of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), told 7Dnews.
Some unofficial estimates of enforced disappearances may not be accurate in some countries in view of the lack of information and where there is no central authority.
Human rights activists and relatives often discover that disappeared persons are either under investigation by judicial authorities or are facing terrorism-related charges or may have left the country illegally to join terrorist camps scattered across the borders of the many countries in the region such as Syria or Yemen.
Since 2011, the UN has declared August 30th of each year International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance.
Syria, Libya and Yemen are the countries that already suffer most from enforced disappearances for several reasons such as civil war, unstable infrastructure and the numerous secret prisons set up by extremist groups and armed militias. Such prisons are regulated neither by the government nor the public legislative authority, said an official in a regional security centre.
The official, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the majority of those who have disappeared forcibly are either human rights activists or are involved in terrorism-related cases. In either case, it is difficult to obtain accurate figures or the reasons for the forcible removals.
One of Libya's most famous human rights activists who has disappeared since July 2014, is Abdul Moez Bannon, born in Tripoli in 1976. He is believed to have been abducted by armed militias for opposing their illegal activities and may be being held in a secret prison.
Bannon has not been seen since then. "We have searched for him everywhere, but no one knows where he is," says his wife Amal, “We live in agony.”
For those who join terrorist militias, questions about their whereabouts remain unanswered. This is because they usually leave no traces of their destination for fear of being pursued by the authorities.
"At all times, once we receive information about someone's disappearance, we investigate the matter and address the authorities to find out his or her fate, as they may be being detained in one of their (authorities’) premises”, said lawyer Abdullatif, who works on cases of the forcibly disappeared for the ANHRI.
7Dnews visited one of the secret places where terrorist militias in eastern Libya used to detain hundreds of opponents and many who are believed to have been forcibly disappeared. The place was a renowned cement plant in Benghazi where the relatives of disappeared victims wrote commemorative names on the walls after they discovered they had been killed. The Libyan army was eventually successful in releasing dozens of those still alive held in narrow suffocating underground tunnels.
Abdullatif does not rule out the fact that enforced disappeared persons may have fled the country, which makes the task of the authorities difficult, added to the fact that the political and military strife in Libya have generated more than two governments with institutions being split and divided.
Abdullatif adds, "Yes, it is difficult in this case to reveal his or her fate, unless the disappeared person was able to communicate with his or her family inside the country. In some cases, disappeared people suddenly appeared in camps belonging to terrorist organisations in one country or another, but this is something of a rarity."
There are no accurate statistics about enforced disappearances in view of the instability in Syria and Yemen, but many sources estimate the numbers to be in the thousands of ordinary citizens, media activists, politicians and human right activists or those who have joined these militias.
"In Libya, prosecutors in Tripoli tried to trace the fate of a few thousand forcibly disappeared since 2011, but the militias’ influence hindered the process," said the security official at the regional centre.
Militias in several towns in western Libya, such as Tripoli, Zawiya, and Misrata, run secret prisons that are not subject to the influence of state authorities. The inmates of these jails are the soldiers and security personnel believed to be supportive of the Muammar Gaddafi regime or opponents of extremist groups.
No one knows who was killed and who is still alive in places that are difficult to reach.