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As Libya emerges from the shadows of dictatorship, it must decide whether to embrace retribution or reconciliation.
Filmmaker: Ashraf Mashharawi
In 2011, Libyans rose up against their leader, Muammar Gaddafi, as the Arab Spring took root in the north African country.
In the conflict that followed, the city of Misrata became a key battleground. During the battle for the city, some residents reported being tortured by Gaddafi loyalists from the town of Tawergha, 50km to the south.
After the battle, Misrata became a launch-pad for the rebels as they prepared to move on Tripoli in a final bid to oust Gaddafi. But, before heading to the capital, Misrata-based rebels made a trip to Tawergha.
The regime was able to incite hatred between Libyans. Everywhere, not only in Misrata.
Emad Elbannani, from the Justice and Construction Party
Much of the town’s almost 30,000-strong population fled. Some sought sanctuary in Benghazi in the east; others in Tripoli in the west and Sabha in the south. Most of the refugees are black Libyans.
In the refugee camps of Janzour, on the outskirts of Tripoli, and Al Halis, on the outskirts of Benghazi, many of the residents from Tawergha say they are still being persecuted.
With the new Libyan government so far failing to embrace the notion of national reconciliation, some Libyans are taking it upon themselves to pursue peace and forgiveness.
The Road to Tawergha is about war, retribution and the difficult road to reconciliation that Libya must travel if it is to emerge from the shadows of Gaddafi’s 42-year reign.
Human Rights Watch: Statement at the Human Rights Council on the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya
Oral statement under Item 4 – Interactive Dialoque with the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya
March 12, 2012
Human Rights Watch welcomes the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, which rightly highlighted a wide range of past and ongoing human rights violations. We support the Commission’s conclusions that “international crimes, specifically crimes against humanity and war crimes, were committed by Gadhafi forces in Libya.”
Human Rights Watch’s research also confirms the Commission’s conclusion that anti-Gaddafi forces “committed serious violations, including war crimes and breaches of international human rights law.” We support the Commission’s finding that crimes against humanity of torture and killing by anti-Gaddafi forces in Misrata have apparently taken place.
Of deep concern are reports of torture and maltreatment in detention facilities run by militias, sometimes resulting in deaths. Armed groups are also engaging in arbitrary arrests and revenge attacks against those who supported or are perceived as having supported the Gaddafi government.
The state is slowly taking control of detention facilities, and this is welcome. But militias still illegally hold between five and six thousand detainees, and most of them have not had any judicial review. The government should redouble its efforts to bring these detainees under its control, and give them prompt judicial reviews or release them. The Libyan government should send a clear message that only official security structures are authorized to make arrests, and it will not tolerate illegal detentions or torture.
The creation of an inter-ministerial body to address human rights violations is welcome. But the problems require concerted action, including prosecutions of all those who violate the law.
Another concern is the fate of roughly 35,000 people from Tawergha, who are blocked from returning to their homes by militias from Misrata. These militias accuse Tawerghans of having committed atrocities against Misrata together with Gaddafi forces, but it is collective punishment, and likely a crime against humanity, to prevent the entire town from returning home. In addition, the displaced people in western Libya are subject to ongoing harassment and attacks, including one last month on a camp in Janzur that killed seven people. The government should immediately bolster security at camps where displaced people are staying, and implement plans to ensure their safe return home.
For these and other serious violations committed in Libya, accountability is required. Security Council Resolution 1970 gives the International Criminal Court ongoing jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of Libya since February 15, 2011.
Free and fair elections in Libya, schedule for June, will require laws that protect the rights of Libyans to criticize their leaders and others in public life and to associate and assemble as they see fit, without fear of prosecution or other reprisal. Guaranteeing the independence of civil society and the active participation of women will be critical for a transition to democracy, and for this reforms are required. Human Rights Watch is also concerned that vetting procedures may be used to ban candidates based on vague and broadly defined criteria.
Libya has passed important laws on Transitional Justice and Amnesties, and these are important steps. But the government should make these laws public and widely available so they can be understood and implemented in line with international human rights standards. It should make publicly available all oil and gas contracts, so Libyans know how their national wealth is being managed.
To protect women’s rights, the interim government should withdraw all remaining reservations to CEDAW, and reform personal status laws that discriminate against women, including laws on inheritance, marriage, divorce, and custody of children and adopt laws that protect women and girls from gender-based violence.
Human Rights Watch believes that Libya should ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which would allow for independent inspections of detention facilities.
With the likely ongoing crimes against humanity occurring in Libyan territory, the primary responsibility to protect the population of Libya rests with the Libyan government. However, the international community also has a duty to assist the government, speedily and fully, to implement its responsibility to protect and end these crimes immediately.
Given the gravity of the challenges still faced in Libya, the Human Rights Council should establish an international mechanism, such as an independent Expert, to assist Libya in abandoning past abusive practices and following up to the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, and to report back regularly to the UN Human Right Council on progress and challenges.
Lastly, Human Rights Watch calls on NATO to investigate cases in which Libyan civilians died from its attacks during last years’s campaign, as recommended by the Commission of Inquiry. NATO took extensive measures to minimize civilian casualties and the number of victims is relatively low. But that does not lift the legal obligation to investigate questionable cases. NATO should also compensate the civilian victims of its campaign.