Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Human Rights Abuses in the New Libya

I'll begin by saying that I was never a supporter of the West's military intervention in Libya.

All I could think of were ulterior motives: oil, defence contracts, geo-political influence in such a vital and unstable part of the world.

Also, why help Libya but not other countries rising up against tyranny? Why not intervene in Syria or Yemen or Bahrain, where there were some equally appalling abuses taking place? Why do we pick and choose which countries to help and which to not?

At the time, The Economist wrote that not intervening everywhere was no reason not to intervene somewhere. I accepted this as a plausible argument, but still found myself against intervention.

Another reason I gave was that whilst we were defending and arming Libyan rebels one day in their fight for freedom, these could be the very same people in power, many months or years down the line, ruling just as brutally and fiercely as Gaddafi before them. We've been here many times before haven't we?

A Human Rights Watch report out this week backs up some of these reservations. It builds on similar reports that have gone before it, detailing instances of dreadful human rights abuses committed by the rebels against supposed Gaddafi loyalists:

"Militias from the city of Misrata are terrorizing the displaced residents of the nearby town of Tawergha, accusing them of having committed atrocities with Gaddafi forces in Misrata. The entire town of 30,000 people is abandoned – some of it ransacked and burned – and Misrata brigade commanders say the residents of Tawergha should never return."

"Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of Tawerghans across the country, including 26 people in detention in and around Misrata and 35 displaced people staying in Tripoli, Heisha, and Hun. They gave credible accounts of some Misrata militias shooting unarmed Tawerghans, and of arbitrary arrests and beatings of Tawerghan detainees, in a few cases leading to death."

As Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, rightfully pointed out:

"Revenge against the people from Tawergha, whatever the accusations against them, undermines the goal of the Libyan revolution."

This report came off the back of one released a few weeks ago by Amnesty International telling of torture meted out against anyone suspected of being tied to the Gaddafi regime.

They found that:

"Captured Gaddafi soldiers, suspected loyalists and alleged mercenaries [were] being tortured into ‘confessing’ to pro-Gaddafi crimes."

A pattern was found of '...arbitrary detention and widespread abuse of detainees.'

The report, Detention Abuses Staining the New Libya, worryingly found that:

"...sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being mercenaries make up between a third and a half of those detained.

Many were released, with little evidence found to back up these accusations.

Back in September, the BBC drew attention to reprisals being waged against black African migrants living in Libya's capital, Tripoli. Many had been accused by the rebels of working for Colonel Gaddafi as 'mercenaries,' rather than doing the casual manual labour that they claim they had been doing.

Hundreds of migrant workers were rounded up and imprisoned, with claims that their homes had been looted, and women and girls subjected to beatings and rape.

The lessons of all these reports is surely that we know very little about the people we've supported. I know we've helped in removing another tyrant (although the manner of Gaddafi's death is also profoundly disturbing), and of course Libya and the world is much the better for it, but what's going to come next?

Whatever it is, surely we've already given it our tacit approval.

A slightly edited version of this article was published by Liberal Conspiracy on Monday 7 November 2011

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