Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Alleged Libyan Rebel Abuses Revealed

Rights organisations urge interim Tripoli authority to curb reported abuses and commit to fair system of justice.
By Barrett Holmes Pitner
  • Caricature depicting a bloodthirsty Gaddafi in Al-Bayda - but now the rebels are being accused of human rights violations. (Photo: ليبي صح/Wikimedia)
    Caricature depicting a bloodthirsty Gaddafi in Al-Bayda - but now the rebels are being accused of human rights violations. (Photo: ليبي صح/Wikimedia)

Alleged Gaddafi loyalists have been unlawfully detained and killed by Libyan rebel fighters and addressing this growing concern should be a high priority for the interim authority in Libya, the National Transitional Council, NTC, researchers and analysts say.

Under Gaddafi’s regime, his security forces are said to have arrested, tortured and forced into exile thousands of Libyans, and since the start of the revolution his loyalists reportedly continued these abuses. But human right groups say that anti-Gaddafi forces have also been involved in serious violations, including unlawful killings, torture and detentions.

"Opposition fighters and supporters have abducted, arbitrarily detained, tortured and killed former members of the security forces, suspected Gaddafi loyalists, captured soldiers and foreign nationals wrongly suspected of being mercenaries fighting on behalf of Gaddafi forces," says a report by Amnesty International, entitled The Battle for Libya - Killings, Disappearances and Torture.

According to experts, the NTC must ensure that it does not repeat the abuses of the old regime if it is to be credible in the eyes of its own people and the international community.

Experts say that the NTC must end abuses of captured Gaddafi loyalist suspects and establish a legal system to ensure arrests are warranted and that all those imprisoned can receive a fair trial.

According to reports from Tripoli, the NTC and its military forces have yet to establish a judicial system to guarantee that former regime loyalists suspected of crimes are subject to due process. Analysts have been told that the rebels intend to create an open judicial process, but as of now it remains limited, if not non-existent.

“We continue to be concerned that a lot of people are being detained just on the flimsiest of evidence,” said Peter Bouchaert of Human Rights Watch. “In many cases [individuals have been arrested] just for ‘walking while Black’ which seems to be a crime in Libya these days.”

To combat the rebels, Gaddafi enlisted mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa, and reports have emerged suggesting that Black Africans have been arrested and beaten on the assumption of being Gaddafi allies.

“In eastern Libya, sub-Saharan Africans, and people with black skin, were arrested, killed by angry mobs, dragged out of hospitals, etc,” Diana Eltahawy of Amnesty International told IWPR.

BBC multi-media news reports on September 7 and 8 featured the plight of detained alleged Gaddafi loyalists – some of them Black – in the heavily overcrowded Jdeida prison in Tripoli. According to the BBC, many of the 700 detainees claim to have been arrested on fabricated charges or to have been targeted because of their dark skin. None of the prisoners interviewed said they knew when or if they will receive their day in court, the BBC reported.

In its report, Amnesty said that Libya’s new leaders were struggling to rein in rebels suspected of violations, including possible war crimes. In an interview with the news agency AP, Mohammed al–Alagi, a justice minister in the NTC, denied that war crimes had been committed by anti-Gaddafi forces, although he admitted that mistakes had been made.

Notwithstanding the alleged unlawful detentions and other humanitarian concerns, Bouchaert said the NTC had taken some positive steps to curb abuses.

“They have taken over control [of the prisons] in terms of having the prosecutor’s office control some of the detention facilities rather than allowing young men to control each of these facilities,” Bouchaert said.

“But the problem remains that there are many people in arbitrary detention without any access to their families or lawyers or any kind of process of review, so they’re just stuck in these overcrowded detention facilities without any prospect for release.”

Habib Nassar, head of the Middle East and North Africa programme for the International Center for Transitional Justice, ICTJ, said that the proper investigation of suspects may take a while.

“Of course, they need some time in order to put in place the separate institutions to prosecute the members of the former regime involved in violation,” he said

Ibrahim Dabbashi, NTC deputy ambassador to the United Nations, told the BBC that the new Libyan authorities were committed to a transparent prosecution process.

“We declare that many times that we are committed to justice. Whether it is on the part of those who are fighting for the NTC or those that are fighting with Gaddafi, so I am sure that as soon as we establish our judiciary system any violations of human rights by any side will be investigated and those who committed it will be brought to justice,” he said.

Barrett Holmes Pitner is an IWPR reporter in London.

(Also see The Perils Facing Libyan Civilians)