Gaddafi was manhandled just before his death.Since the Arab Spring reached Libya in February 2011, both pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces have committed numerous human rights abuses, some of which amount to war crimes, violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and possible crimes against humanity. Though Libyan leader Colonel al-Gaddafi’s Security Forces have committed gross abuses, official and unofficial members of the opposition, loosely structured under the National Transitional Council (NTC), have carried out some of the same actions, albeit on a smaller scale.
Violations by al-Gaddafi Forces
In February, the Security Forces interrupted plans for non-violent protests of al-Gaddafi’s 40-year military rule by pre-emptively orchestrating forced disappearances of political dissidents, thus sparking violent clashes. The Security Forces have repeatedly dissembled protests using live ammunition, tear gas and batons, regardless of the setting or audience. Amnesty International reported multiple attacks near mosques and homes that caused the deaths of children and uninvolved bystanders.
The military specifically targeted civilians by launching indiscriminate attacks and deliberately concealing their tanks in residential buildings. They also besieged certain opposition cities and shelled them relentlessly, leaving civilians nowhere safe to hide and aggravating ongoing humanitarian crises by cutting residents off from access to water, electricity, fuel, medicine and essential foodstuffs and by preventing foreign humanitarian assistance from entering. In other areas, family cars were bombed by military tanks as they fled embattled areas such as Misratah in eastern Libya.
The military has also used excessively heavy artillery such as cluster bombs and, perhaps most controversially, antipersonnel landmines, including in residential regions, especially Misrata and the Nafusa Mountains. Libya is one of only three dozen nations that have not joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
It is not clear where the Forces obtained the landmines, which are Brazilian-made – Brazil ceased producing and exporting landmines in 1989 and became a party to the Treaty in 1999. The NTC has come out in strong opposition of the use of landmines. In an official Communiqué to Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 27 April, they stated that their forces would not use landmines, would destroy any in their possession, would assist victims, and would help remove existing landmines. They further declared that any future Libyan government should relinquish landmines and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
Common Tactics and Human Rights Violations
As documented in Amnesty International’s detailed investigative report, pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces and their supporters are guilty of some of the same human rights abuses, though to differing degrees, including: the illegal capture and detention of their perceived enemies; torture and ill-treatment of captured persons; unlawful killings, including by lynching; and racially-motivated attacks and abuses against foreign nationals and dark-skinned Libyans.
Illegal Detention and Torture of Detainees
To prevent anti-government demonstrations, plainclothes Security Forces arrested government critics, pro-democracy activists, journalists, human rights defenders and other civilians, including children. Those detained by Security Forces have been held in undisclosed locations or in prisons. Some have been released, thereby giving Amnesty,
HRW and other rights groups insight into the treatment suffered by prisoners of war and illegal detainees.
The majority of those released were tortured in some way during interrogation and sustained serious, often untreated and sometimes-fatal injuries such as open fractures or gunshot wounds. Other captives were deliberately murdered, their bodies found with tied hands and gunshot wounds. These actions explicitly contravene the IHL prohibition of killing, torturing, or ill-treating individuals who have surrendered, been captured, or injured.
Those detained by the opposition are mostly former soldiers, foreign national “mercenaries,” civilians, and other suspected al-Gaddafi supporters accused of “subverting the revolution.” Some were captured during armed conflict, while others were taken off streets and from homes in broad daylight or during nighttime vigilante raids. None of the opposition’s detainees, Libyan or foreign, have been granted access to lawyers, formally charged or given the right to judicial review of their cases; the same is true for most of the government’s detainees.
However, officials at the opposition’s detention centers refer to “investigation committees” of volunteers who interrogate detainees and release whom they deem uninvolved in actions that subvert the revolution. Many of the opposition’s detainees reported ill-treatment and torture, including beatings with belts, metal bars and wires, rifles, and rubber hoses; electric shocks; and threats of rape. Under such conditions, some detainees were forced to sign statements without being allowed to read them first.
NTC officials have publicly declared disapproval of such tactics and their commitment to improving prison conditions, but they have shown neither an intent to take the steps necessary to stop the abuses, nor willingness to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Abuses of Foreign Nationals
Even before the unrest, foreign nationals in Libya faced institutional and societal racism. Since al-Gaddafi’s government refused to recognize the right to asylum, there was no official distinction between foreigners seeking protection and those joining Libya’s large migrant worker sector. Pro- and anti-Gaddafi factions relied on unsubstantiated suspicions that their opponent had hired foreign mercenaries from Sub-Saharan Africa to do their dirty work.
Furthermore, many such individuals captured were not foreigners at all, but were actually dark-skinned Libyans from minority ethnic groups. Because al-Gaddafi’s regime frequently insisted that all Libyans are racially and religiously homogeneous, many Libyans were ignorant to the fact that members of some native ethnic groups have darker skin and facial features more associated with Africans than with Arabs.
Despite these mistaken identities, both factions continued to stir a climate of increased racism and xenophobia that perpetuated violent attacks, robberies and other abuses by civilians, forcing many Sub-Saharan Africans to flee or be evacuated.
Instead of correcting the false assumptions, NTC officials, including NTC Chairman Mostafa Abdeljalil and other opposition leaders fanned the flames with repeated references in media to Africans as opportunistic criminals invading Libya from the south and as “mercenaries” hired by al-Gaddafi’s government.
It is time for the NTC, the aspirational leaders of what is meant to be a new and brighter era for Libya, to fulfill their responsibility to seek to prevent, condemn and punish the ongoing grave violations of human rights.
The Human Rights Implications of Colonel Gaddafi’s Death
On October 20, 2011, news hubs worldwide buzzed with rumors that Gaddafi had been killed. The main question being asked was whether he was killed in crossfire, or whether he had been captured by opposition forces and extrajudicially executed, which would amount to a violation of international law.
For the opposition party to be guilty of such a high-profile contravention of international humanitarian law before they even formally take power would be a “stain” on the NTC’s reputation in the international community, as stated publicly by British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond on October 23rd.
Although the mobile phone footage depicting Gaddafi’s final moments is extremely shaky at best, the deposed Colonel’s face is depicted clearly in many videos as he became increasingly bloodied. In his final moments, he was surrounded by almost incessant gunfire and men shouting “Allahu akbar!” (God is great). In some videos, the men appeared to be escorting and protecting the injured leader, but for the most part, they seemed to be restraining and even beating him.
At the time of publication, it is still unclear exactly how Colonel Gaddafi died, and various individuals have contacted international media to claim responsibility. Reports from Libya’s “official pathologist” claim that gunshots to his head and stomach appeared to have caused his death.
The international community is more that a bit uncomfortable with the manner in which Colonel Gaddafi was killed. Reports and photographs show that Gaddafi’s body was dragged on the ground, possibly after his death, and that his body has been displayed publicly in a cold storage livestock meat market for three days.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a credible investigation into Gaddafi’s death, stating, “new Libya needs to start with accountability, the rule of law, a sense of unity and reconciliation in order to build an inclusive democracy.”
As the international community continues to push for investigations into the circumstances surrounding Gaddafi’s death and the possibility that the incoming regime is already guilty of international humanitarian law violations, they will be increasingly hard pressed combat this major “stain” on their human rights record.
Melanie Habwe Dickson, 3L, can be reached at email@example.com.