Better late than never, Human Rights Watch (HRW) have today called for the Libyan government to take “urgent steps to stop serious and ongoing human rights violations against inhabitants of the town of Tawergha,” and stated that the “forced displacement of roughly 40,000 people, arbitrary detentions, torture, and killings are widespread, systematic, and sufficiently organized to be crimes against humanity.” (Our emphasis)
The Tawergha are a tribe of dark-skinned Libyans who Libyan rebel sources claim were released from slavery by Colonel Gadaffi. During the Libyan intervention the Tawergha were ethnically cleansed from Misrata, the town of Tawergha and other places nearby by Misratan militia who had been whipped into a frenzy of racist violence.
According to HRW, “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.”
It is worth pointing out that NATO actually took part in the attack on the Tawergha and HRW did nothing to stop that and other abuses at the time. Nevertheless, it is a welcome development that HRW, who formed part of the pro-war “Responsibility to Protect” coalition, now claim that “The double standard in addressing these crimes depending on who committed them erodes the credibility of governments that said they intervened to protect civilians.”
It is worth asking, however, who other than HRW, seriously believes that Sarkozy, Hague and the Qatari dictatorship, who have admitted to having special forces on every front in Libya, intervened to protect civilians?
Human Rights Watch now call “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.”
Unfortunately, the Libyan “government” is still in a state of complete disarray, with power in the country largely resting in the hands of powerful and unaccountable militia, thanks in part to the propaganda efforts of HRW.
HRW states that “The Security Council should also impose sanctions against officials and militia commanders who ordered or failed to prevent these crimes.”
This is a nice thought, but French and British military intelligence were reportedly on the ground in Misrata, working hand-in-hand with these militia commanders, so frankly this is very unlikely to happen.
HRW have collected some additional information about the consequences of the military intervention they supported, including Tawergha civilians killed during the conflict, after and whilst in detention. Many Tawergha are currently still locked up and are, according to HRW, around 8,000 detainees still held by the Libyan government or militias.
Satellite imagery, recently released, confirms what Human Rights Investigations (HRI) has reported many times before – the town has been ethnically cleansed and rendered uninhabitable. Satellite imagery shows “1,690 structures damaged or destroyed, after the cessation of hostilities, more than 90 percent of which appear damaged by fire.” The “total number of destroyed structures is certainly higher.”
With HRW having seen Misratan militia members “systematically burning one neighborhood by dousing homes with gasoline and setting them on fire,” even HRW’s Fred Abrahams is forced to admit “The systematic looting, burning, and demolitions were organized and seem intended to keep people from going home.”
HRW quote the head of the Tawergha council, Abulrahman Shakshakas as saying the town’s civil register had 42,000 people prior to the conflict. About 37,000 people lived in Tawergha and around 5,000 lived in Misrata, he said. Some others lived in Tomina and Kararim.
These people have all been ethnically cleansed and are being prevented from returning, a fact the UK government ridiculously tried to deny last month whilst refusing an HRI Freedom of Information request.
According to HRW, “Tawergha leaders claim that up to 1,300 people from their town have died or been detained since February 2011 or are missing.” Of the survivors “about 18,000 people are in Benghazi, 13,000 in Tripoli, and 7,000 in and around Sebha, in the south. Smaller numbers are in Tarhuna, Khoms, Sirte, Ajdabiya, and a few other places.”
According to the UNHCR “some 59,425 persons face a situation of protracted displacement. These include IDPs from Tawergha, Mushashya, Siaan and other communities.”
HRW claim that the ICC, of which HRW is a great proponent, “could prosecute senior civilian officials, military commanders, or people effectively acting as military commanders for serious crimes committed by forces or subordinates under their effective command and control.”
It would, however, be an amazing turnaround if the spineless, institutionally racist ICC, which generally only prosecutes black people, would defend the people of Tawergha, particularly as the previous ICC prosecutor
Luis Moreno Ocampo was himself guilty of inciting racial violence through his incendiary statements during the Libyan conflict.
HRW argue a prosecution could be instituted if an “Official or commander knew or should have known that his subordinates or forces were committing or were about to commit such crimes and failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent the crime, or to submit the matter to the competent authorities for criminal investigation and prosecution.”
As HRI reported during the conflict, militia commander Ibrahim Halbous threatened to wipe Tawergha off the map well before he was enabled in doing just that by NATO. NATO commanders should be in the dock at The Hague for their complicity in the crimes against humanity committed against the Tawergha.