Human Rights Investigations has been following the situation of the Tawergha closely and here we draw the information together and find, based on the reports of witnesses, journalists and human rights workers, the situation of the Tawergha is not just one of ethnic cleansing but, according to the legal definition, genocide.
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Further specific evidence has emerged that there is a strong racist element within the rebel forces, including at command level, and it is the stated intention of these forces to ethnically cleanse areas they capture of their dark-skinned inhabitants.
Racism amongst the rebels including at command level
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, journalist Sam Dagher pointed out the obvious fact that the Libyan war is aggravating ethnic tensions in that country. The article talks about the fate of Tawergha, a small town 25 miles to the south of Misrata, inhabited mostly by black Libyans, a legacy of its 19th-century origins as a transit town in the slave trade:
Ibrahim al-Halbous, a rebel commander leading the fight near Tawergha, says all remaining residents should leave once if his fighters capture the town. “They should pack up,” Mr. Halbous said. “Tawergha no longer exists, only Misrata.”
The issue of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and their close links to the US government has been highlighted by a recent letter sent to Ken Roth on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire; former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck; current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Richard Falk; and over 100 scholars. Continue Reading…
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) Continue Reading…
The Report of the The International Commission of Inquiry on Libya has been issued and provides some interesting reading. Continue Reading…
The background to the video and image below is the ongoing bombardment of Sirte by NATO aircraft in support of the rebel brigades who are indiscriminately firing tank, mortar and artillery shells into this urban, civilian-populated area. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has refused to comment on why NATO is not fulfilling its UN mandate to ‘protect the civilian population.’
As our regular readers will be aware, we have been reporting on the fate of the people of Tawergha since the local rebel commander Ibrahim al-Halbous, said he was going to wipe the town off the map. We reported the storming of the town, with NATO support, and the extremely worrying reports of prisoners in shipping crates and the people of the town being “handed over to the red cross,” which they weren’t (see ‘Tawergha no longer exists, only Misrata’).
We relayed the reports from Diana Eltahawy of Amnesty International about the inhabitants who managed to flee being persecuted in Tripoli.
This pro-Gaddafi settlement has been emptied of its people, vandalised and partly burned by rebel forces. The Sunday Telegraph was the first to visit the scene of what appears to be the first major reprisal against supporters of the former regime.
“We gave them thirty days to leave,” said Abdul el-Mutalib Fatateth, the officer in charge of the rebel garrison in Tawarga, as his soldiers played table-football outside one of the empty apartment blocks. “We said if they didn’t go, they would be conquered and imprisoned. Every single one of them has left, and we will never allow them to come back.”
Andrew Gillighan is a serious reporter and he even mentions the racial context:
And as so often in Libya, there is also a racist undercurrent. Many Tawargas, though neither immigrants nor Gaddafi’s much-ballyhooed African mercenaries, are descended from slaves, and are darker than most Libyans.
Along the road that leads into Tawargha, the Misurata Brigade has painted a slogan. It says, “the brigade for purging slaves [and] black skin.”
We have to say, the racist element is more than an undercurrent, but if more journalists had reported the truth rather than turning a blind eye, refusing to report or to investigate then perhaps lives could still be saved.
In this context we should just mention the “reporting” of so-called journalists such as Chris Stephen who has been in Misrata for weeks writing pro-war, pro-NATO propaganda for the benefit of the Guardian’s readership and failing miserably to report on the racist atrocities and ethnic cleansing.
Update (12 September) – The Washington Post reports Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert as confirming:
“It really is racist violence against all dark-skinned people, this situation for Africans in Tripoli is dire.”
Update (14th September) – The ethnic cleansing of Tawergha is now being made permanent with the seal of approval of Mahmoud Jibril.
Today Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports on the arbitrary detention of black-skinned people in Tripoli.
HRW is one of the members of the “Responsibility to Protect coalition” and has been slow to condemn the racist atrocities of the Libyan rebellion and has little to say about the bombing of civilians by NATO in places like Zlitan.
HRW is not to be confused with Human Rights Investigations (HRI) which opposes the NATO bombing, supporting the African Union position on Libya and has worked to expose the racial element to the conflict
The HRW article contains evidence of black Libyans and sub-Saharan guest workers being abused in Tripoli, which have already been widely reported, as well as hopes for an “embryonic legal system” in Tripoli.
VIDEO SHOWS DEAD BODIES:
HRW witnessed black men being taken into the Bab al-Bahr football club – but weren’t allowed by the commander to see what was happening inside. The commander claimed the detainees were all “foreign fighters” but their families were outside complaining and the four they were allowed to interview who were apparently being released were elderly Libyans.
HRW also found black people – a mixture of black Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans – detained in other places around Tripoli including the Maftuah prison in the Fernaj neighborhood, (300 detainees on September 1 including wounded). In this prison HRW described the conditions for Libyan detainees as acceptable, but
“the sub-Saharan Africans were in overcrowded cells with a putrid stench; one cell had 26 people and six mattresses and the African men complained of inadequate water, poor sanitation and not being allowed to make phone calls to ask family members to bring their documents.”
At a school in the Intisar neighborhood, 76 detainees incuding 3 women were found on September 1. About half of the detainees appeared to be sub-Saharan Africans, the remaineder being Libyans accused of having fought for Gaddafi. HRW saw the prisoners being prepared for transfer to the Mitiga air base.
One of the detainees, a 25 year old from Mali, was arrested at his house and complained that:
At about 10 p.m. a big group of Libyans came with the owner of the building. They tied us up, took all of our passports and possessions, and beat us. They brought us to a big mosque in the neighborhood, and then they went to other African houses and arrested them. In the end, they had more than 200 Africans in there. Then they put us on vehicles and took us around town shouting “Allahu Akhbar!” [“God is great”] and saying we were mercenaries they had captured.
HRW also visited Nigerian families at Girgarish, and one of the men, a carpenter, complained:
“I’m from Abu Salim, but our lives are not safe there because they say we’re mercenaries, they regard all black men as mercenaries.”
The HRW article contains new incendiary allegations of the use of “African mercenaries” (similar to the earlier allegations which Amnesty researchers found to be largely unfounded and which led to so many deaths).
According to the Article 47 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977 the definition of a mercenary is as follows:
2. A mercenary is any person who:
a) is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.
To be clear – all the above have to apply for someone to be considered a mercenary. Others apply even more stringent conditions and the security guards employed by the Americans in Iraq, Gurkhas employed by the British etc are not described as mercenaries.
All human rights organisations should focus on protecting black people in Tripoli, rather than their own institutional interests. We agree with Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch who states:
“It’s a dangerous time to be dark-skinned in Tripoli,
“The NTC should stop arresting African migrants and black Libyans unless it has concrete evidence of criminal activity. It should also take immediate steps to protect them from violence and abuse.”
On the 12th July, Human Rights Investigations wrote:
“Given the atrocities committed in Misrata and Benghazi the option of allowing the rebels to conquer pro-Gaddafi population centres is inconceivable – there is now only one option – and that option is peace.”
Well, Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen and NATO did not agree and the atrocities we feared are unfolding.
Amnesty today report on the killing of black and dark-skinned people in Libya after Amnesty workers personally see them targetted in Tripoli. The article clearly recognises this is part of a bigger pattern:
An Amnesty delegation visiting the Central Tripoli Hospital on Monday witnessed three thuwwar revolutionaries (as the opposition fighters are commonly known) dragging a black patient from the western town of Tawargha from his bed and detaining him. The men were in civilian clothing.
(Tawargha is the town south of Misrata about which HRI has MAJOR concerns as the inhabitants – whose fate is unknown – were dark-skinned.)
The thuwwar said the man would be taken to Misratah for questioning, arguing that interrogators in Tripoli “let killers free”. Two other black Libyans receiving treatment in the hospital for gunshot wounds were warned by the anti-Gaddafi forces that “their turn was coming”.
The delegation also witnessed a group of thuwwar beating a man outside the hospital. The man, in distress, was shouting “I am not a fifth columnist”, a reference to al-Gaddafi loyalists.
Amnesty International’s Diana Eltahawy on CNN (after the Alex Thomson report we covered before)
From the start of the Libyan rebellion black people in Libya have been attacked and lynched by rebel mobs. This has been known by human rights groups and the United Nations as well as by the intelligence agencies, military forces, media and political leaders in the NATO countries – but they have generally kept a lid on it because it does not suit the narrative.
It does not suit the narrative of an oppressed people standing up against tyranny and for human rights to find rebel lynch mobs targetting black people, lynching them and ethnically cleansing them. Human Rights Investigations has documented that these lynchings even happened at rebel HQ in Benghazi.
Below is graphic footage of another lynching – and as with other incidents we see large numbers of rebel supporters involved. HRI has far more graphic footage including Al Qaeda-style beheadings which we are keeping back as evidence. (Note for those submitting material: please provide information regarding provenance, time, place, perpetrators, victims and witnesses and soundtracks where possible)
Where reports of racial atrocities have reached the media, the story has been that the victims are “African mercenaries” despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Amnesty workers on the ground have reported that the widespread allegations of African mercenaries have little or no basis in fact – but this information has been suppressed and the fears of African mercenaries, extremely useful to the rebel side, have been whipped up by the media and NATO politicians such as UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox.
The rebel commander in Misrata threatened to ethnically cleanse Tawergha, the town to the south of Misrata occupied mainly by dark-skinned people – months later that object seems to have been achieved with direct air support from NATO – yet the crime has been ignored.
The entry of the rebel brigade from Misrata – which the Wall Street Journal reports calls itself the “brigade to purge black skin, slaves” into Tripoli, enabled by NATO, led to inevitable round-ups of black people, massacres and abuses of human rights including the slaughter of patients in the Abu Salim hospital.
Well, today are Amnesty reporting some of the facts in Tripoli although whether this will reach the mainstream media is another question.
Today, Amnesty also report some earlier incidents they witnessed recently:
On 29 August, Amnesty examined the body of an unidentified black man at the Tripoli Medical Centre morgue. He was brought into the morgue earlier that morning by unknown men. His feet and his torso were tied. He bore no visible injuries, but had blood smudged around his mouth. The state of his body pointed to a recent death. No autopsy report was available, and no identification documents were found on him.
On 28 August, Amnesty visited a group of Eritreans hiding in their home in a poor Tripoli neighbourhood. They told the organisation that they were staying indoors for fear of violent attacks. Their situation was particularly dire given the absence of electricity and running water.
It has now become clear that the Al Qaeda /Ku Klux Klan types who have taken over in Tripoli, and the rebels generally, are not as welcoming to human rights workers, UN observers and the whole panoply of western intervention as it appeared they might be when they were primarily concerned with spreading pro-rebel propaganda.
The dam holding back reporting of these incidents has been breaking in recent days as many journalists are in Tripoli and commendable individuals within the media corps have been prepared to report honestly about the situation. It is to be hoped that information about rebel crimes does not continue to be suppressed, reports delayed, excuses found and the black people of Libya betrayed.
The full coverage of rebel racist crimes is essential to protect the population in Tripoli and the prisoners and also because many black people in Libya live in the south of the country. It is the south (including Sabha in Fezzan) that will be attacked by NATO and the rebels in the coming weeks. Racist atrocities will follow and public pressure on the decision-makers has to be mobilised to try and prevent it happening.