‘Two years of militia appeasement have led to a situation where abductions, torture and killings have become the norm in Libya’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui
The Libyan authorities must actively protect protesters from attacks by armed militia during ongoing demonstrations this week or risk further bloodshed, Amnesty International said today.
The Head of the Tripoli Local Council has called on Tripoli residents to pursue a general strike until all armed groups leave the city. Large demonstrations are planned for tomorrow (Friday) in Tripoli’s Al Quds Square. Activists have also called for demonstrations outside militia compounds.
The calls follow the deaths of 43 people at a peaceful demonstration and subsequent clashes in the Gharghour area of Tripoli last week. Last Friday, protesters in Tripoli called on militias based in the neighbourhood of Gharghour to leave the city and demanded that the police and national army return to the streets to ensure public order.
The demonstration, which had received authorisation from the authorities who promised to take measures to protect them, was held in protest at heavy clashes in the capital between Misratah and Tripoli militias on 7 November. Eye-witnesses interviewed by Amnesty delegates in Tripoli said that police failed to protect demonstrators or intervene when they were being shot at by militias. Most police units stayed behind as demonstrators marched towards militia compounds in Gharghour, and failed to take preventive action to protect demonstrators from militias known to be heavily armed and reckless.
A 51-year-old man told Amnesty: “Many of the demonstrators were old people who had just come out of the mosque after prayer. They were not armed and carried revolutionary and white flags and posters with peaceful messages. The police were in the background but did not do anything to stop the shooting. I was hit by shrapnel in my left leg, which had to be amputated.” Mabrouka Muhadab, 42, told Amnesty: “I stepped out onto the balcony to get my son’s blanket when I was hit by a bullet in the back.” As the violence continued, at about 10pm militias shot at a nearby camp for internally displaced Tawarghas, wounding a man in the knee. The next morning, militias attacked the camp again killing one man and injuring two others. Despite previous attacks of this kind by Misratah militias, the authorities failed to protect the camp.
On 17 November, the Libyan General Prosecutor told Amnesty an investigation into the events had been initiated and Amnesty delegates observed the handing over of official forensic reports to families of victims at the morgue. The government has also announced a new plan to remove militias from Tripoli by integrating them into state security forces. Amnesty is urging the government to ensure that disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration efforts are compliant with human rights standards, with no-one responsible for human rights abuses being integrated into state institutions.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“The Libyan authorities must guarantee that protesters taking to the streets on Friday will be protected from violence by militias. Anything short of that could result in a new tragedy.
“Two years of militia appeasement have led to a situation where abductions, torture and killings have become the norm in Libya. Those who once fought for freedom are now turning into criminal gangs.
“People throughout Libya - not only in Tripoli - must be able to live without fear of militia abuses.
“The fact that an investigation has been initiated is positive. However, experience shows that investigations into militia abuses in Libya rarely result in successful prosecutions. Letting it happen again will only further embolden militias.”
In March the General National Congress, Libya’s first elected body, issued a decision ordering all “illegal armed formations” to leave Tripoli. However, the government has been unable to implement the decision and now has it been able it able to disarm and demobilise militias. Since the end of the 2011 armed conflict, hundreds of anti-Gaddafi militias have refused to disarm and reintegrate into civilian life. Most are based in Tripoli and the west of the country.