Amnesty International Urges Libya’s National Transitional Council to Rein In Opposition and Vigilante Groups to Prevent Reprisal Attacks

Press Release
September 13, 2011

Amnesty International Urges Libya’s National Transitional Council to Rein In Opposition and Vigilante Groups to Prevent Reprisal Attacks

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

New Report Says Opposition Leaders Must Break with Past and Set a New Course for Libya, Based on Human Rights Standards

(Tripoli) - Leaders of Libya’s rebel forces must step up efforts to rein in opposition fighters and vigilante groups to prevent further reprisal attacks and arbitrary arrests, Amnesty International said today in a new report that urges opposition authorities to hold its supporters accountable for human rights abuses.

The 107-page report The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearances and Torture, documents widespread war crimes and abuses, which may amount to crimes against humanity, by forces loyal to Col. Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi during the conflict. These include indiscriminate attacks, mass killing of prisoners, torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests. In most cases it was civilians who bore the brunt of these violations.

In addition, the report concludes that opposition forces loyal to the National Transitional Council have also committed abuses - although on a smaller scale -- that in some cases amount to war crimes. The report documents unlawful killings, assaults and the destruction of property by groups loyals to the opposition, which in some cases "operate freely, openly and with impunity." The report warns that allowing those responsible for abuses to escape justice will send a message that continued violations will be tolerated.

"Groups of vigilantes and opposition fighters have been carrying out regular night-time raids looking for people suspected of collaborating with or assisting al-Gaddafi forces," the report states. "The ones found and not killed have usually been handed over to authorities at the north Benghazi courthouse or at military camps." Detainees and former detainees in Benghazi and Misratah told Amnesty International they were seized by heavily-armed men, taken away in unmarked vehicles and given no reason for their arrests.

Opposition officials told Amnesty International that many groups acted independently and on their own initiative - not on the orders of the military - and that they usually hand suspects over to the relevant NTC authorities, but not always. Dozens of these vigilante groups were reportedly operating in Benghazi and other areas.

"The new authorities must make a complete break with the abuses of the past four decades and set new standards by putting human rights at the centre of their agenda" said Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty International.

"The onus now is on the NTC to do things differently, end abuses and initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed."

"A top priority must be to assess the state of the justice sector and start its reform, to ensure due process and deliver access to justice and reparation for victims."

The organization documented a brutal "settling of scores" by some anti-Gaddafi forces when al-Gaddafi forces were ejected from eastern Libya, including lynchings of al-Gaddafi soldiers after capture.

Dozens of people suspected to be former security agents, al-Gaddafi loyalists or mercenaries have been killed after capture since February in Eastern Libya.

When Al-Bayda, Benghazi, Derna, Misratah and other cities first fell under the control of the NTC in February, anti-Gaddafi forces carried out house raids, killings and other violent attacks against suspected mercenaries, either sub-Saharan Africans or black Libyans.

It is a war crime for any party to a conflict to kill prisoners.

Amnesty International warned that as fighting continues, with some parts of the country still contested, there is a danger these patterns could be repeated.

Foreigners from African countries continue to be particularly at risk, the organization said. Between a third and a half of all those in detention centers in Tripoli and al-Zawiya are foreign nationals - Amnesty believes that most of these are migrant workers and not fighters.

Amnesty International found that widespread rumors that al-Gaddafi forces used large numbers of sub-Saharan African mercenaries in February had been significantly exaggerated. But NTC officials have done little to correct false assumptions that sub-Saharan Africans were mercenaries.

The organization welcomed the fact that in May, the NTC issued guidelines for its forces to act in accordance with international law and standards and in August the NTC Chair called on anti-Gaddafi forces to refrain from reprisal attacks. The NTC also sent text messages to Libyan mobile users telling them to avoid revenge attacks and treat detainees with dignity.

Presenting a comprehensive "Human Rights Agenda for Change" to the NTC, Amnesty International called on the new authorities to immediately bring all detention centers under the control of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and to ensure that arrests are only conducted by official bodies rather than the "thuwwar" (revolutionaries).

Prison officials in Tripoli and al-Zawiya have told Amnesty International that they report to military and local councils rather than the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

Amnesty International, which has taken testimonies from more than 200 detainees since the fall of al-Zawiya and Tripoli, believes that hundreds of people have been taken from their homes, at work, at check-points, or simply from the streets.

Many have been ill-treated upon arrest, being beaten with sticks, backs of rifles, kicked, punched and insulted, at times while blindfolded and handcuffed. In some cases, detainees reported being shot after being seized.

The organization called on the NTC to prioritize the investigation of those on all sides of the conflict suspected of responsibility for abuses, with a view to prosecution in fair trials that meet international standards and ensuring reparation for victims.

"Those responsible for the dreadful repression of the past under Colonel al-Gaddafi will need to be held accountable." said Claudio Cordone. "The thuwwar must be judged according to the same standards. Without this, justice would not be done and a vicious cycle of abuses and reprisals risks being perpetuated."

"Libyans have had to endure great suffering for decades. They deserve to participate in the building of a new Libya where these kinds of abuses are no longer repeated and tolerated."