Amnesty International have issued a briefing called “Barred from their Homes”
about the Tawergha, an ethnic group of black Libyans who were attacked and driven out of their homes in Misrata and Tawergha by racist rebel brigades and western bombing, during the NATO-backed war on Libya in 2011. The briefing documents the current situation of the Tawergha, none of whom have been allowed to return to their homes, many of whom have lost family members, and many of whom are living in refugee camps or under detention and torture in Misrata. Unfortunately, the Amnesty authors fail to explain the background to the Tawergha’s current situation, fail to criticise NATO’s role in the ethnic cleansing and make unrealistic suggestions to the “Libyan authorities” most of which are beyond the power of these authorities to deliver, even if they were minded to do so, and which indicate Amnesty is still in denial about the events of 2011.
The authors fail to acknowledge Amnesty’s wrong-headed support for “humanitarian intervention” and it’s silence in the face of widespread rebel lynching of black people and genocidal threats against the Tawergha. They also fail to acknowledge Amnesty’s silence during the crucial period during which the Tawergha were attacked and driven from their homes by the combined forces of racist rebels, western and Gulf intelligence/special-forces and NATO airpower.
Despite these criticisms of the briefing, ‘Barred from their Homes’ does give an accurate impression of the difficulties suffered by Tawergha in modern-day Libya – a country dominated by the feuding violent, Islamist and racist militia NATO and its Gulf Arab allies brought to power. Reading between the lines of the report, it is obvious that the western narrative about the Libyan “revolution” was propaganda. It is clear that the Libyan rebels were largely motivated by racist propaganda about “black mercenaries” and “mass rape,” spread by militarists in NGO-clothing, western politicians and the then Prosecutor for the ICC, and that the current situation of the Tawergha is largely a consequence of this “information war.” Amazingly, however, the report manages to avoid any use of the words “racism,” “racist” or “ethnic cleansing.”
The basic facts of the Tawergha situation are laid out in the introduction to the briefing on the Amnesty site:
…more than 1,300 Tawarghas are estimated to be missing, detained or subjected to enforced disappearances, mainly in Misratah. Most were seized by militias and have been subjected to torture – including electric shocks, whipping, and beatings with metal bars.
Hundreds of Tawargha detainees, including children, have also been held in state prisons for more than two years, without charge or trial, in poor detention conditions, and without adequate medical care or regular family visits. In al Wahda prison in Misratah, Amnesty met nine children who have been held without charge since they were apprehended in 2011. Family members of detained Tawarghas fear reprisal attacks each time they go to Misratah.
In total around 65,000 people are internally displaced across Libya, not just Tawarghas but members of the Mashashya tribe from the Nafusa Mountains, residents of Sirte and Bani Walid, and Tuaregs from Ghadames.
In numerous respects the briefing uses language rooted in attitudes which blame the Tawerghans for their own persecution. The word “revenge” is used whilst the role of racism and racist propaganda is obscured. For instance, the report says:
Allegations of rape and sexual abuse by al-Gaddafi forces in Misratah exacerbated tensions between the neighbouring towns. Once they gained control of the area in August 2011, anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misratah struck back, seemingly driven by revenge.
Today Tawergha is a ghost town. Seeking revenge, anti-Gaddafi fighters looted and burned down the Tawarghas’ homes.
The report also continues a narrative of “collective punishment” criticising the current Libyan “Prime Minister” saying,
While the Prime Minister recognized the constitutional right of Libyan citizens to live anywhere in Libya in “ordinary circumstances”, and the right of Tawarghas to return to their home town, he also acknowledged the right of Misratah residents to have reservations about their return, given “what happened in Misratah” – referring to war crimes committed in the city in 2011…By doing so, the Prime Minister seemed to acquiesce to a policy of collective punishment of the entire Tawargha community for crimes allegedly committed by a few, at least until reconciliation is reached.
Amnesty make no attempt to challenge the narrative of “revenge” or “collective punishment” for alleged crimes. It is only in a footnote that we find out that, despite “significant effort” the actual evidence does not support this narrative:
In March 2012, the UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on Libya reported that it had not found evidence of a widespread or systematic attack, or any overall policy of sexual violence by al-Gaddafi forces against a civilian population. Despite significant efforts to investigate allegations of sexual violence in 2011, Amnesty International recorded no first-hand testimonies to verify such claims, although the reluctance of survivors of sexual violence to report such abuses and seek redress may result from fear of social stigmatization as well as the fact that the vast majority of those detained in relation to the conflict have not yet been brought to justice. [My emphasis]
The racist background to the whole situation comes through to the reader, not in Amnesty’s writing but in the words of one of the victims “White skin will get you out of prison. The THUWWAR [revolutionaries] tell us that if a black person manages to be released, they will be killed.” – Tawargha detainee held in Al-Wahda school in Misratah, 20 April 2013.
The family of a murdered Libyan soldier in the Khamis Brigade explain to Amnesty why they receive no support from Ministry of Assistance to Families of Martyrs and Missing Persons; “It is only because we’re from Tawargha.”
The report recounts the difficulties of families trying to find what happened to relatives murdered during and after the intervention and being issued death certificates, let alone holding those who murdered them responsible, with one family recounting: “For months we did not know what happened to him. I went looking for him in Sirte and they were helpful at the hospital where he sometimes worked but they did not know where he was. And then a few months ago I saw him for the first time in the photo – dead.”
The briefing also has information on the targeting of other communities:
Representatives of the Warfallah tribe have been trying to obtain information on the fate and whereabouts of 113 missing and disappeared persons, all from Bani Walid, since 2011. Of these, 76 individuals went missing or were subjected to enforced disappearance in 2011, mainly during the fighting between al-Gaddafi forces and anti-Gaddafi militias that took place in Bani Walid in October of that year. An additional 37 individuals disappeared in 2012, largely during a 20–day siege of Bani Walid by Libya Shield forces and militias in October of that year.
Similarly, representatives of the Mashashya community have been unsuccessfully trying to establish the fate of seven persons subjected to enforced disappearance since the end of the conflict, most likely by militias from Zintan.
The is little prospect of the Tawergha being allowed back to their homes, given that there is no effective state power in Libya, and Amnesty reports that:
The Misratah Local Council reiterated that the suffering of the city’s residents during military campaigns allegedly waged by volunteers from the Tawargha area had caused a “deep wound” whose impact would extend “for many years and into successive generations”, thus implicitly justifying the collective punishment of an entire community.
A recent attempt by Tawerghans to return to their home town was abandoned in the face of certain violence. Even demonstrations in favour of a return have been attacked:
In May 2013, a peaceful demonstration by Tawarghas calling for the GNC to recognize their decision to return was attacked by armed men who shot at the demonstrators. One person was injured in the leg. The demonstration was authorized by Tripoli’s Public Security Directorate, which also provided forces to protect the demonstrators together with guards of the GNC. Although the protest organizers filed a complaint with the General Prosecutor’s office, the current security situation does not allow for a proper investigation.
The UK Foreign Office denies that “ethnic cleansing” took place in Tawergha, but Amnesty does now condemn the behaviour of militias (without mentioning NATO once in the report) saying: Many of the attacks that Amnesty International has documented against Tawargha civilians committed by militias from Misratah during the armed conflict constituted war crimes. Given that militias carried out, during and after the conflict, prohibited acts including murder, forcible transfer, torture and enforced disappearance as part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack directed against the civilian population of Tawargha, and with knowledge of the attack, it appears that they constituted crimes against humanity.
The forcible displacement of the Tawargha, and other communities such as the Mashashya, most of which happened during the internal armed conflict, also violates international humanitarian law. Article 17 of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (on protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts), prohibits the displacement of civilians during a non-international armed conflict except for their own security or for imperative military reasons. In the case of the Tawargha, the forced displacement was undertaken as a punitive measure and as such was prohibited. The fact that militia from Misratah continue to prevent the return of the Tawargha to their homes underlines that Tawarghas were indeed chased out of their town in violation of international humanitarian law.
This formulation, and the dire circumstances of the dark-skinned Tawarghans, are not particularly welcome information for the powerful humanitarian imperialist wing of Amnesty or their media audience. So it is perhaps not surprising that Amnesty have tucked the briefing away from their front page and that the briefing has been universally and totally ignored by the western mass media.