Libya: Stop Revenge Crimes Against Displaced Persons

(Tripoli) – The Libyan government should take urgent steps to stop serious and ongoing human rights violations against inhabitants of the town of Tawergha, who are widely viewed as having supported Muammar Gaddafi. The forced displacement of roughly 40,000 people, arbitrary detentions, torture, and killings are widespread, systematic, and sufficiently organized to be crimes against humanity and should be condemned by the United Nations Security Council.

Newly released satellite imagery analysis [click for images] shows the systematic destruction of large swaths of the town by arson and targeted demolitions after the fighting there had stopped in mid-2011, in an apparent attempt to prevent Tawerghans from returning home.

“Successive governments in Tripoli and local authorities in Misrata have failed to stop the ongoing persecution of an entire community and the destruction of the town,” said Fred Abrahams, special advisor at Human Rights Watch. “This leaves a dark stain on the reputation of a new Libya that claims to respect human rights.”

Armed groups from Misrata, about 30 kilometers north, have been responsible for most of the abuses. These groups accuse Tawerghans of having fought with or supported pro-Gaddafi forces during the 2011 conflict, and of committing war crimes in Misrata. The Libyan government and Misrata authorities have been unable to rein in these abusive armed groups.

Militia commanders and senior officials in Misrata could be held criminally responsible by domestic and international courts, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, for ordering these crimes, or for failing to prevent them or to punish the attackers, Human Rights Watch said.

In her last report to the UN Security Council in November 2012, the ICC chief prosecutor said her office was continuing to collect information about allegations of “killings, looting, property destruction, and forced displacement by Misrata militias” of Tawerghans to determine whether a new case should address these allegations.

Libyan authorities should also promptly investigate individual Tawerghans accused of committing serious crimes during the 2011 conflict, including alleged rapes and unlawful killings in Misrata, and if there is evidence of a crime, prosecute them to the full extent of the law, Human Rights Watch said. Punishing a community for alleged crimes by community members amounts to collective punishment.

Foreign governments that intervened militarily in Libya under a UN Security Council resolution to protect civilians forcefully condemned violations by the Gaddafi government but have failed to challenge effectively the ongoing abuses against Tawerghans and others, Human Rights Watch said. The double standard in addressing these crimes depending on who committed them erodes the credibility of governments that said they intervened to protect civilians.

Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council to condemn crimes against humanity against Tawerghans and to request the Libyan government to report back in three months on how it is fulfilling its responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities. The Security Council should also impose sanctions against officials and militia commanders who ordered or failed to prevent these crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
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