In 2011, Jonathan Russell wrote three articles on the Libyan conflict in Aberdeen Voice, in part because of the lack of public outcry. Here he presents the second part of a new four article series.
As in the whole of the Middle East human rights abuses were of considerable concern under the Jamahiriya Government. The Amnesty International Report in 2010 in its introduction makes the following point:
“Freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be severely curtailed and the authorities showed little tolerance of dissent. Critics of the government’s human rights record were punished. Former detainees at Guantánamo Bay returned to Libya by US authorities continued to be detained; one died in custody, apparently as a result of suicide.
“Foreign nationals suspected of being in the country irregularly, including refugees and asylum-seekers, were detained and ill-treated. An official investigation began into the killing of prisoners at Abu Salim Prison in 1996 but no details were disclosed and some of the victims’ relatives who had campaigned for the truth were arrested.
“Hundreds of cases of enforced disappearance and other serious human rights violations committed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s remained unresolved, and the Internal Security Agency (ISA), implicated in those violations, continued to operate with impunity.”
What Amnesty fails to report however, is that health services and education were available to a high standard to everyone, food and electricity was heavily subsidised, all the population had been housed and the position of women in society was better than anywhere else in the Middle East or Africa, and in many ways better than many Western countries. The situation in Libya was also far from straightforward.
Numbers of men, particularly from Benghazi, had gone to Afghanistan to the Al-Qaeda training camps then returned to Libya and started a bombing campaign. The largest grouping of Al-Qaeda prior to the conflict fighting in Iraq came from Benghazi.
According to West Point authors Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman,
“Saudi Arabia took first place as regards absolute numbers of jihadists sent to combat the United States and other coalition members in Iraq during the time frame in question. Libya, a country less than one fourth as populous, took second place. Saudi Arabia sent 41% of the fighters.”
According to Felter and Fishman,
“Libya was the next most common country of origin, with 18.8% (112) of the fighters listing their nationality stating they hailed from Libya.”
Other much larger countries were far behind:
“Syria, Yemen, and Algeria were the next most common origin countries with 8.2% (49), 8.1% (48), and 7.2% (43), respectively. Moroccans accounted for 6.1% (36) of the records and Jordanians 1.9% (11).”
This means that almost one fifth of the foreign fighters entering Iraq across the Syrian border came from Libya, a country of just over 6 million people. A higher proportion of Libyans were interested in fighting in Iraq than any other country contributing mujahedin. Felter and Fishman point out:
“Almost 19 percent of the fighters in the Sinjar Records came from Libya alone. Furthermore, Libya contributed far more fighters per capita than any other nationality in the Sinjar Records, including Saudi Arabia.”
“But since the Al Qaeda personnel files contain the residence or hometown of the foreign fighters in question, we can determine that the desire to travel to Iraq to kill Americans was not evenly distributed across Libya, but was highly concentrated precisely in those areas around Benghazi.” ( See chart below from the West Point report, page 9 )
Unsurprisingly, Qaddafi and his government saw them as a threat to the stability of Libya. Apart from the sanctions, this was a major reason why Qaddafi came to the agreement with the West which was facilitated by Tony Blair.
None of this excuses the human rights abuses, but does put them in a wider context.
What can be said is that for the majority of people in Libya, life was good; however, if you went against the regime, watch out.
Though human rights violations in Libya under Qaddafi were bad, what followed in the wake of the so called ‘revolution’ far outstripped the human rights abuses of his time.
Armed militias continue to commit serious human rights abuses with impunity, including arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and unlawful killings. Thousands of people suspected of formerly supporting or fighting for Qaddafi’s government remained detained without charge or trial and with no means of remedy. The most famous of these is Salif Al-Islam, Qaddafi’ second son, who is still being held by one of the militias in Zinan.
Tens of thousands of people who were forced to leave their homes in areas perceived to have supported Qaddafi in 2011 remain internally displaced and continue to be at risk of revenge attacks and other abuses. Undocumented foreign nationals faced arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, exploitation and torture or other ill-treatment.
Human Rights Watch recently posited the possible reasons for Libya’s current lawlessness. In a dispatch posted on 20th October 2013, Human Rights Watch described mass executions carried out by Libyan rebel groups on the day of Qaddafi’s death. In the days that followed, HRW gathered hard evidence of the executions and of who was responsible, which it presented to transitional authorities shortly afterward; to date, no investigation has been carried out.
“The failure to investigate systematic executions helped set the stage for the militia lawlessness in Libya today,” wrote Fred Abrahams, special advisor to HRW’s program office.
“Impunity for those and subsequent crimes sent the message that Libya’s armed groups stand above the law.”
Law 38 granted amnesty to those who committed crimes if their actions were aimed at “promoting or protecting the revolution” against Qaddafi.
On the 23rd October 2013 Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, stated that:
“two years after the conflict, Tawarghas and other displaced communities are still waiting for justice and effective reparations for the abuses they have suffered. Many continue to face discrimination and live in under-resourced camps with no solution in sight.”
Human rights Watch in their 2013 report have said:
“As of October, roughly 8,000 people were in detention. The majority of them were held for more than a year without charge or due process rights, including judicial review and access to a lawyer. The Ministry of Justice holds around 3,000 detainees, around 2,000 are held by the Ministry of Defence or Supreme Security Committee. The rest were being held illegally by various armed groups.’’
Given that most of the country is being run by militias the figures are likely to be in reality much higher.
Conditions in militia-run facilities varied, with detainees in some facilities reporting repeated torture and deaths in custody. Conditions in state-run facilities appeared to improve, although there continued to be cases of abuse and some deaths in custody.
Following rising violence the Interior Minister Mohamed Khalifa al Sheikh resigned in August last year
Non-Libyans from sub-Saharan Africa, mainly migrant workers, are particularly vulnerable to abuse, facing harassment, arrests, ill-treatment in detention, forced labour and no regulated access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Sporadic armed confrontations between militias across the country have caused hundreds of deaths; the victims included children and other civilians not involved in the fighting. Impunity remained entrenched, both for gross human rights violations committed in the past and for ongoing human rights abuses by armed militias.
Amnesty UK Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Libya Researcher, reported the following:
“The authorities have failed to break the stranglehold of the militias. Hundreds of armed militias that fought against Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s repressive regime now pose the greatest threat to human rights in Libya.
“In 2012, our researchers visited the country and found evidence of a catalogue of abuses, including arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, unlawful killings and forcible displacement. All are casting a shadow over post-revolution Libya.
“Torture is rife in Libya. It is carried out not just by military and security entities but also armed militia groups operating outside of legal frameworks.
“When our researchers visited 11 detention facilities in central and western Libya used by various militias, there was only one facility in which detainees did not report torture and ill treatment. In ten, detainees showed us injuries resulting from recent abuse.
“At least eleven people detained by militias have been tortured to death.
“So far, not one person has been brought to justice for these human rights violations. There have been no effective investigations into cases of torture and deaths in custody.”
Following rising violence the Interior Minister Mohamed Khalifa al Sheikh resigned in August last year. Some 500 prisoners in Tripoli jail undertook a hunger strike to protest being held for two years without charges. When the government ordered the Supreme Security Committee to restore order, they began shooting prisoners through the bars. Where was the outcry from the West? In July 1200 prisoners escaped a jail after a riot in Benghazi. In short, lawlessness and anarchy is spreading
The position of women
Whilst Islamic law established almost equal rights for women in relation to divorce for the past 1,400 years, under the Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya Government the rights of women became greatly enhanced. Women were granted equal rights to men with many younger women in the cities wearing western clothes and thirty percent were in employment, which compared well with many other Middle Eastern countries.
Women were also increasingly seen driving, shopping and travelling without husbands or male companions, a practice which is forbidden in some countries in the Middle East. Child brides were banned and the minimum legal age to marry placed at 18. Women became lawyers, judges, aircraft pilots, army commanders and Ministers in the Government. It has been suggested that women had a stronger position in Libya than in any country in the world. By all accounts, the rights of women have taken a severe setback since the destruction of Jamahiriya, particularly in areas held by Al Qaeda.
According to the Human Rights Watch 2013 report, attacks against religious minorities started in October 2011, and intensified in 2012. Armed groups motivated by their religious views attacked Sufi religious sites across the country, destroying several mosques and tombs of Sufi religious leaders. Armed groups attacked churches in at least two incidents in Tripoli in May and September. The government’s security forces have failed to stop the attacks and have made no significant arrests.
Amnesty International has said that a total around 65,000 people are internally displaced across Libya, not just Tawarghas, but members of the Mashashya tribe from the Nafusa Mountains, residents of Sirte and Bani, Walid, and Tuaregs from Ghadames too.
The Tawarghas, ethnic black Libyans, are among those who have suffered the most. More than 1,300 Tawarghas are estimated to be missing, detained or were subjected to enforced disappearances, mainly in Misratah. Most were seized by militias and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, such as electric shocks, whipping and beatings with metal bars or water pipes in detention.
Amnesty International has asked the Libyan authorities to investigate all cases of enforced disappearance and indiscriminate torture, including of victims perceived as pro-al Qaddafi.
The European Union (EU), last year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and its member states have been assisting the Libyan authorities in tightening border security and developing “an integrated border management strategy” in order to curb “illegal migration” to Europe at the expense of human rights. Amnesty International has repeatedly urged the EU to fully protect the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, and put in place a satisfactory system for assessing and recognising claims for international protection.
Migrants in Libya are often perceived to be a threat to national security. Since May 2012, the Libyan authorities have deported 25,000 persons.
“EU funding should be used to promote and protect human rights in Libya, especially while the country is still recovering from a recent armed conflict and confronted with a legacy of abuse,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui from Amnesty International has said.
“It is deeply troubling that EU funds appear have been used to support detention centres where thousands of foreign nationals are unlawfully held. Asylum-seekers and refugees who are entitled to international protection and should only be detained because of their status in the most exceptional circumstances are among those routinely detained and abused in detention.”
Libya’s immigration detention practices not only violate the country’s international obligations under refugee and human rights law and standards, but they are also at odds with EU human rights obligations as well as EU standards concerning the detention and return of third country nationals.
Libya’s Constitutional Declaration, adopted in 2011, declares that the “state shall guarantee the right of asylum by virtue of the law”. It is urgent the authorities translate this principle into real action and adopt legislation establishing a national asylum system.
Amnesty International has urged the EU, and member states, not to enter into further agreements on migration control with Libya until the government demonstrates that it respects Human Rights.
Thousands of people deemed to have entered Libya “irregularly” have been held in detention for months before their deportation, without access to a lawyer or the ability to challenge their forcible removal and/or detention.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui from Amnesty International (AI) has said:
“The Libyan authorities must amend their legislation by setting a maximum detention period pending deportation for migrants.”
AI also found evidence that the Libyan authorities have resumed deporting foreign nationals diagnosed with infections such as hepatitis or HIV after compulsory medical tests were introduced earlier this year. No individual should be deported on the grounds of their medical condition. Hassiba continued:
“Reintroducing compulsory testing for foreign nationals and deportation on the ground of their health status amounts to scapegoating them and only proves how inadequate Libya’s public health policies are.”
At the time of AI’s investigation a total of 5,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants were held in 17 “holding centres” under the Ministry of Interior, in addition to an unknown number of detainees held by militias. AI’s delegates also met a small number of unaccompanied children, sometimes as young as 10, who had been detained in at least three “holding centres” for months.
Many of the “holding centres” visited had extremely poor hygiene standards exposing those held there to the risk of disease, including chest infections and chronic diarrhoea. At the “holding centre” in Sabha, where some 1,300 were being held last May, detainees were held in filthy, overcrowded rooms.
The prison also lacked a functioning sewage system – and piles of garbage filled the corridors. Around 80 detainees – who complained of itchiness on their hands and genitals, suggesting a scabies infection – were held in a courtyard in the sun as treatment, but became dehydrated due to extended exposure to sun.
Denying detainees proper medical care is inexcusable. Libya’s government must show the world it is serious about protecting the rights of all individuals in Libya, whatever their status and nationality.
To date, NATO, which waged the air campaign against Qaddafi’s forces, has failed to investigate properly at least 72 civilian casualties caused by its airstrikes. The UN Commission into Libya also received written reports from the authorities stating that NATO launched about 3,000 airstrikes on several civilian and military targets in Libya. According to the same unverified reports, these strikes resulted in the death of 500 civilians and 2,000 injured.
The same reports stated that NATO had targeted schools, universities, mosques, and others civilian locations. According to the same sources, 56 schools and three universities were directly hit by these strikes. Furthermore, it is claimed that NATO airstrikes have resulted in the closure of 3,204 schools, leaving 437,787 students without access to education.
Security Council members that initially championed resolution 1970 referring Libya to the ICC have been largely silent on Libya’s obligation under that resolution to cooperate with the court.
The Truth About Libya: NATO Crimes & Mass Media Lies Exposed! Reported by Russia Today in 2011.
Though some of the people in Libya have benefited for the majority life has turned into nothing short of a nightmare.
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