Libyan judicial police have started taking control of makeshift prisons in the country after human rights organizations complained of rampant torture of inmates, the country's deputy justice minister said on Sunday.
The deputy minister, Khalifa Ashour, said uniformed police have been dispatched to some prisons where former rebels have been holding people accused of being loyalists of deposed ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
During last year's civil war, former rebels trying to protect their neighborhoods held anyone deemed suspicious of being a Gadhafi loyalist or mercenary, locking them up in makeshift prisons in schools, homes and empty government buildings.
According to the U.N., various former rebel groups are holding as many as 8,000 prisoners in 60 detention centers around the country.
Bringing all the prisons under control of the new government illustrates the challenge of reuniting Libya after the ouster of Gadhafi.
Ashour said that on Sunday his ministry took over one prison in Misrata and another in Tripoli, but didn't have information on any other prisons which were taken over.
"Some of the prisoners are loyalists of the former regime detained during the revolution, and others were captured after liberation for murder and drug or alcohol possession," Ashour told The Associated Press.
The move comes after the U.N.'s top human rights official said Friday that Libya's transitional government must take control of all makeshift prisons to prevent further atrocities against detainees.
"There's torture, extrajudicial executions, rape of both men and women," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday.
Pillay said she was particularly concerned about sub-Saharan African detainees whom the brigades automatically assume to be fighters for former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Aid group Doctors Without Borders suspended its work in prisons in the Libyan city of Misrata on Thursday because it said torture was so rampant that some detainees were brought for care only to make them fit for further interrogation and abuse.
Amnesty International said Thursday it had recorded widespread prisoner mistreatment in other cities that led to the deaths of several inmates.
The allegations, which come more than three months after Gadhafi was captured and killed, were an embarrassment to the governing National Transitional Council, which is struggling to establish its authority in the splintered nation.
Ashour said that the Justice Ministry has sent letters to revolutionary brigades guarding makeshift prisons across Libya, setting target dates for handing over the prisons to the ministry, at which point a group of judicial police will take charge.
He didn't have information on how many notices were sent out or if there was a final deadline for handing over prisons to government control.
In November, Libya's leaders acknowledged that some prisoners held by revolutionary forces were abused, but insisted the mistreatment was not systematic and pledged to tackle the problem.
Libya's new leaders have struggled to stamp their authority on the country since toppling Gadhafi's regime. One of the greatest challenges still facing the leadership is how to rein in the dozens of revolutionary militias that arose during the war and now are reluctant to disband or submit to the central authority.