Libya: Ghaddafi's Forces Are Carrying Out Campaign of Disappearances Inside Libya to Crush Growing Opposition, Says Amnesty International in New Report

Press Release
March 29, 2011

Libya: Ghaddafi's Forces Are Carrying Out Campaign of Disappearances Inside Libya to Crush Growing Opposition, Says Amnesty International in New Report

Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
March 29, 2011

Gaddafi’s Forces Are Carrying Out Campaign of Disappearances Inside Libya to Crush Growing Opposition, Says Amnesty International in New Report

Government Critics, Writers, Journalists, Activists and Even Children Have Gone Missing Since Protests Began, Report Says

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

(New York) -- Libyan forces loyal to Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi have carried out a campaign of enforced disappearances of government critics, writers, journalists, pro-democracy activists -- and even children -- to crush growing opposition to his rule, Amnesty International said today in a new briefing paper.

The report by an Amnesty International team inside Libya details more than30 cases of individuals who have disappeared since before protests began, including political activists and those suspected of being rebel fighters or supporters of fighters. The organization said there is every reason to believe, given the circumstances of the enforced disappearances, that these individuals are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment.

The documented cases are believed to represent only a small proportion of the total number of people who have been detained or have disappeared in the custody of Gaddafi’s forces in recent weeks.

The organization called for an immediate stop to this “outrageous” campaign in violation of international law.

Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, said: “It appears that there is a systematic policy to detain anyone suspected of opposition to Colonel al-Gaddafi’s rule, hold them incommunicado detention, and transfer them to his strongholds in western Libya.”

He warned that Colonel al-Gaddafi could be held responsible in an international court for any crimes committed by his forces during this conflict.

“All those who are detained simply for peaceful activities in support of the protests must be released immediately and given safe passage home,” said Smart.

Disappearances began taking place even before protests against Gaddafi had turned into armed rebellion, according to the briefing, Libya: Detainees, Disappeared and Missing.

Atef ‘Abd al-Qader Al-Atrash, a prominent blogger and father of two, was last seen attending a gathering near Benghazi’s port on February 17, when he is believed to have been seized by forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi.

A relative of his told Amnesty International:

“We kept trying to call his phone but never got through, until some days later when a man who spoke with a western [western Libyan] accent answered and said: ‘This is what happens to those who throw stones at us.’”

As rebel forces seized control of Benghazi and pro-Gaddafi forces retreated, they appear to have seized a number of protesters, including children. Amnesty International has documented a number of people who were last seen in or near the Kateeba al-Fadheel military compound on February 20.

A relative of 14-year-old schoolboy Hassan Mohammad al-Qata’ni told Amnesty International:

“I haven’t slept since he’s gone missing, nobody in my family has slept; we are so worried; he is just a kid; we don’t know what to do, where to look for him, who to turn to for help.”

As the conflict has developed, disappearances have continued. A number of individuals have gone missing in or near the frontline town of Ben Jawad. Some are believed to have been fighters, others to be civilians who went to the area in order to assist the wounded, and still others may have merely been onlookers.

One source told Amnesty International that his relative was taken prisoner by Gaddafi’s forces early on March 6 in Ben Jawad but had been able to phone while being transported with dozens of others to the Kateeba al-Sa’idi military compound in Sirte.

Subsequently, a brother of the detainee received phone calls from members of Gaddafi’s forces using the detainee’s phone in which they reportedly threatened: “We will burn you along with your family, your mother and siblings.”

Amnesty International called on Colonel al-Gaddafi and those around him to allow immediate independent access to those detained in order to check on their safety and help protect them from torture, and to urgently inform their families of their whereabouts.

The organization also urged those holding detainees to ensure that all alleged or known fighters who are captured are treated humanely in line with international law, and to give them immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Background

The cases documented are believed to represent only a small proportion of the total number of people who have been detained or have disappeared in the custody of Gaddafi’s forces in recent weeks. The true number is impossible to establish, as the authorities in Tripoli generally do not divulge information about detainees they are holding, and because many areas of the country are not accessible for independent reporting. Some relatives of detainees are also unwilling to publicize their names for fear of possible reprisals.

Foreign journalists who were detained by Gaddafi’s forces have reported that they were beaten, assaulted and threatened with execution, in some cases even being subjected to mock execution, and have expressed concern about Libyans who they saw being mistreated in detention.

Thousands of unresolved cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions have occurred during Gaddafi’s rule.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

# # #

For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org