Country hit by wave of door-to-door ‘manhunts’ and abductions - abductees describe torture at hands of masked captors
‘In today’s Libya the rule of the gun has taken hold’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui
Militias and armed groups in western Libya are carrying out rampant human rights abuses, including war crimes, according to a new briefing today (30 October) from Amnesty International.
Likewise, satellite images released today by Amnesty show that fighters on all sides in the conflict have displayed an utter disregard for civilian lives, launching indiscriminate rocket and artillery fire into crowded civilian neighbourhoods which has damaged homes, civilian infrastructure and medical facilities.
Those responsible include members of the Libya Dawn coalition (groups from Misratah, Tripoli and other towns in western Libya), and the Zintan-Warshafana coalition (groups from Zintan and the Warshafana area). Satellite images obtained by Amnesty show significant damage to civilian property in the Warshafana region, including at Al-Zahra Hospital which has come under heavy rocket fire. The intensive care unit at Zawiya Hospital has also been struck by a rocket which injured ten people, including doctors, nurses, patients and visitors.
Since July at least 287,000 people have been internally displaced as a result of indiscriminate attacks and a fear of being targeted by militias, and a further 100,000 have been forced to flee the country in fear for their lives.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“In today’s Libya the rule of the gun has taken hold.
“Armed groups and militias are running amok, launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas and committing widespread abuses, including war crimes, with complete impunity.
“Indiscriminate attacks and targeting medical facilities are prohibited under international law and can constitute war crimes. Yet, fighters on all sides in this conflict have fired GRAD rockets, mortars and artillery into crowded civilian neighbourhoods.
“Three years of failure by the Libyan authorities to hold militias accountable has emboldened them and perpetuated their belief that they are above the law. In the absence of accountability, the human rights situation in Libya is likely to continue its downward spiral.”
Abductions and torture
Scores of civilians have been abducted by armed groups in Tripoli, Zawiya, Warshafana and towns in the Nafusa Mountains, with numerous people held hostage for up to two months in a spate of tit-for-tat attacks based on their town of origin or perceived political affiliation. In some cases civilians have been abducted as bargaining chips in order to secure prisoner exchanges. While several such exchanges have taken place since the start of the conflict on 13 July, abductions and other reprisals have continued.
Tripoli residents originally from Zintan told Amnesty that Libya Dawn militias have carried out door-to-door “manhunts” to seize people based on their tribal affiliation or presumed political allegiance. Militias have also carried out extensive raids against civilian homes, looting and destroying property, and setting homes and farms ablaze in the area of Warshafana.
Many of those abducted told Amnesty they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated - including by being beaten with plastic tubes, sticks, metal bars or cables, or being given electric shocks, suspended in stress positions for hours, kept blindfolded and shackled for days, or deprived of food and water for days. In one case, Hussein al-Fitouri, a 38-year-old lorry driver, was abducted on 9 August by an armed group from Warshafana because he is from the town of Zawiya. During an 11-day ordeal, he was, he says, beaten all over his body with a metal bar, was subjected to electric shocks, and had fuel poured over his body (including over open wounds) with his captors threatening to set him on fire. In another case, Ahmad Juweida, 25, an injured fighter from Warshafana, was abducted by a militia from Nalut as he was being taken by ambulance for medical treatment for a leg wound. He was later found dead with devastating head injuries, apparently the result of being shot at close range.
Meanwhile, members of the Tawargha displaced community - long suspected by many Libyans of being Gaddafi supporters - are also among those who have been targeted by armed groups, with scores of abductions carried out since August.
Attacks on journalists
Scores of journalists and human rights activists have fled Libya or gone into hiding after threats and attacks by militias. Members of the National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, Libya’s national human rights institution, have been threatened and intimidated by militias affiliated with the Libya Dawn coalition. Amnesty interviewed ten media workers who have fled the capital and even the country in fear for their lives. The offices and staff of Al-Assema TV and Libya International TV have also been attacked. According to Reporters without Borders, at least 93 journalists have been targeted in the first nine months of 2014.
The world ignores Libya
When perpetrated during an armed conflict, torture and cruel treatment constitute war crimes, as does hostage-taking. However, the international community has largely turned a blind eye to the chaos engulfing Libya since the 2011 uprising even though the International Criminal Court can still exercise jurisdiction to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country since then. Under a UN Security Council resolution adopted in August, sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes can also be imposed against perpetrators of human rights violations in Libya. Leaders of militias and armed groups in Libya have a duty to put an end to violations of international humanitarian law and to make clear to their subordinates that such crimes will not be tolerated. A failure to do so could result in prosecution of commanders by the ICC.
Amnesty is calling on all militias and armed groups in Libya to immediately and unconditionally release anyone abducted on the basis of their background or political loyalties. All detainees, including captured fighters who are particularly at risk of torture or summary killings, must be treated humanely under international humanitarian law. Commanders must make it clear that torture and other ill-treatment will not be tolerated, and remove from their ranks any individuals suspected of involvement in such acts.