Thursday, August 02, 2012

Libya : The former rebel militias are as bad as Gadaffi's dictatorship at it's worst

The NATO governments who armed and provided air support to the armed rebellion against Gadaffi's dictatorship have quietly ignored the aftermath of Gadaffi's overthrow, perhaps because it involves militias running riot torturing, threatening and killing people (apparently with the approval of the National Transitional Council), looting; and even ethnically cleansing entire towns for the crime of being black.

Many people paint Libya as entirely worse or entirely better than it was under Gadaffi, but it isn't as clear cut as that. While the rebels were committing some atrocities themselves even before the military balance swung in their favour, Gadaffi's forces were killing people suspected of not supporting Gadaffi or supporting the rebels on a much larger scale and almost randomly, even when abandoning cities to the rebel advance (1) - (2).

For white or brown skinned Libyans not suspected of supporting Gadaffi, things are better for many of them. For Islamists, many of whom were jailed and tortured under Gadaffi, things are better too. For black Libyans and black immigrant workers from other countries - and anyone suspected of having supported Gadaffi (whether they actually did or not) things are much, much worse. Over all that seems like no real improvement.

Amnesty Internationalreports that 'Militias continue to arrest people and hold them in secret and unofficial detention is estimated that 4,000 remain in centres outside the reach of the central authorities. Some have been held without charge for a year.

An Amnesty International fact-finding team found evidence of recent beatings and other abuse - in some cases amounting to torture - in 12 of the 15 detention centres where it was able to interview detainees in private during its most recent visit.

Common methods of torture reported to the organization include suspension in contorted positions and prolonged beatings with various objects including metal bars and chains, electric cables, wooden sticks, plastic hoses, water pipes, and rifle-butts; and electric shocks.

Amnesty International has detailed information on at least 20 cases of death in custody as a result of torture by militias since late August 2011.'

It adds that 'In May the transitional authorities adopted legislation which grants immunity from prosecution to thuwwar (revolutionaries) for military and civilian acts committed with the “purpose of rendering successful or protecting the 17 February Revolution.”

In a June meeting with Amnesty International, Libya’s General Prosecutor was unable to provide any details of thuwwar being brought to justice for torturing detainees or committing other human rights abuses. ' (3)

This sounds a lot like even the central government in Libya is giving former rebel militia-men a blank cheque to do anything to anyone to "protect the revolution", with a law which could as easily have been one of those allowing Gadaffi's forces to do anything to anyone to protect his 1969 revolution against the monarchy. Unless this changes then it's just going to be history repeating itself.

The French medical charity Medicines Sans Frontieres (doctors without borders) suspended some of its operations in Libya in January after multiple cases of rebel militia-men bringing in prisoners who they had tortured for treatment just to keep them alive to torture them some more (4).

James Hider of the Times newspaper reports that 'In Mshashia, once a town of 15,000 outside Zintan, not a single person can be seen. Entry roads are blocked with burnt-out lorries. Signs read: “Closed military zone. No entry.”

The emptying of Tawerga, just outside Misrata, is even more disturbing. A town of 30,000 people, many of them black, the mass expulsion was tinged with the racial overtones that marked much of the revolution, when Gaddafi was accused of using African mercenaries to do his killing. ...

...Ramzi al-Muntar, a jobless former rebel ....whose home was destroyed in the siege of Misrata...

“They are not allowed to come back. If they do, someone will kill them,” he said. “...Anyway, they are not really Libyans. They are descended from a slave ship that ran aground once off the coast.” (5).

Amnesty was already reporting in September last year that many black Tawerghan men had never been heard of again after being taken away at gunpoint by armed militia-men from the Misrata brigades (6).

Human Rights Watch has reported that the militias have also tortured Tawerghans to death and looted their homes and businesses, which has parallells with ethnic cleansing by militias in Bosnia , which was similarly motivated partly by getting loot in a country under sanctions and in which 'economic reforms' demanded by the US in return for providing new loans to Yugoslavia (having called in the old ones) had pushed up unemployment (7) - (9).

The militias aren't even content with having forced Tawerghans out of their homes, having continued to attack and kill Tawerghan men, women and children in refugee camps near Tripoli for instance (10).

Libyans who aren't black aren't safe either if they annoy or criticise the militias in any way.

Just complaining about Misrata militia-men firing their guns in the air was enough for them to beat one hotel owner unconscious and destroy his hotel with rocket propelled grenades, while another man who had some unknown argument with militia-men at a checkpoint was later found by his family dead in a morgue, supposedly of natural causes, though his body was covered in bruises and a second autopsy paid for by his family showed he had died of kidney failure and internal bleeding (11).

This sounds a lot like the days of Gadaffi's dictatorship when anyone who criticised Gadaffi or his regime could end up disappeared, only more chaotic, because rather than being at risk if you criticise one lot of rulers, Libyans are at risk if they criticise or argue with any of over 100 militias, if their skin is considered to dark, or if they are suspected (rightly or wrongly) of having supported Gadaffi.

The way the supposedly 'democratic' armed revolutionaries, who supposedly only wanted "freedom" are behaving - just like the forces of the dictatorship they overthrew - makes me regret having supported arming the rebels and half regret ever having backed a NATO intervention to protect Benghazi (though i never supported using it for a war of regime change due to the risks of civil war and revenge killings by victorious rebels). It also makes me even more opposed to supporting armed rebellion in Syria, as the resulting sectarian civil war is likely to make Libya look peaceful by comparison.

If freedom from dictatorship just means the freedom for different people to torture and murder and loot the possessions of others, then it is not worth the loss of life required to overthrow the dictatorship and we should wait for it to fall peacefully the way the Soviet bloc dictatorships did instead.

The election victory of a relatively secular coalition in Libya is less bad than if hardline Islamists had won, but it remains to be seen whether all the militias in control of different parts of the country will accept the authority of the central government or not.

With torture and murder by armed former rebel militias replacing that by Gadaffi's forces - and no trials involved, suspicion being enough, so far things are not that much better than under Gadaffi - the only change being who is doing the torture and killing and who the victims of it are, with the likelihood that just as under Gadaffi many of those suffering violence are not responsible for the crimes they are accused of. (I don't mean that this would excuse torture or execution or jail without trial even of those who are guilty - none of these things are justifiable).

Whether Libyans end up better or worse off overall depends on how the elected government behaves and whether it is willing and able to disarm and disband the militias. If it can't or won't, things are unlikely to improve.


PHOTO at top of blog from this Black Presence blog post

(1) = Amnesty International 13 Sep 2011 'Libya: The battle for Libya: Killings, disappearances and torture',

(2) = Amnesty International 13 Sep 2011 'Libya: No place of safety: Civilians in Libya under attack',

(3) = Amnesty International 04 Jul 2012 'Libya: Militia stranglehold corrosive for rule of law ',

(4) = Medicines Sans Frontieres 26 Jan 2012 'Libya: detainees tortured and denied medical care',

(5) = Times 12 July 2012 'Hate and fear: the legacy of Gaddafi',

(6) = Amnesty International UK 07 Sep 2011 'Libya: Tawarghas being targeted in reprisal beatings and arrests',

(7) = Human Rights Watch 30 Oct 2011 'Libya: Militias Terrorizing Residents of ‘Loyalist’ Town',

(8) = Mary Kaldor (1999) ‘New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era’, Polity Press, 1999

(9) = Woodward , Susan L.(1995) Balkan Tragedy - Chaos and dissolution after the Cold war The Brookings Institution , Washington D.C , 1995

(10) = New York Times 02 Mar 2012 'U.N. Faults NATO and Libyan Authorities in Report', ; 'Certain revenge attacks have continued unabated, particularly the campaign by the militiamen of Misurata to wipe a neighboring town, Tawergha, off the map; the fighters accuse its residents of collaborating with a government siege.

Such attacks have been documented before, but the report stressed that despite previous criticism, the militiamen were continuing to hunt down the residents of the neighboring town no matter where they had fled across Libya. As recently as Feb. 6, militiamen from Misurata attacked a camp in Tripoli where residents of Tawergha had fled, killing an elderly man, a woman and three children, the report said. '

(11) = Independent on Sunday 08 July 2012 'Patrick Cockburn: Libyans have voted, but will the new rulers be able to curb violent militias?',