The terms of a settlement between the UK government and Abdel Hakim Belhaj over his rendition and torture case are due to be revealed today. the treatment of Belhaj and his wife, who were kidnapped in Thailand and flown to Tripoli on a CIA plane in an operation involving former foreign secretary Jack Straw, Sir Mark Allen, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, as well as the agency itself and the Foreign Office are shocking and disgraceful. Torture and rendition are unacceptable, however, ethnic cleansing is similarly unacceptable and this article is to draw attention to the collaboration between NATO and Belhaj in the ethnic cleansing of the Tawergha, a dark skinned ethnic group, during the Libyan conflict in August 2011. Continue Reading…
Archives For Tawergha
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…
In a response to a Freedom of Information request, the UK Foreign office has claimed that “ethnic cleansing has not taken place” in Tawergha. Continue Reading…
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.
Some important reactions to the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha – The San Francisco BayView has followed up on the reporting of the Wall Street Journal, the Black Star News and Human Rights Investigations on the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha with an article entitled: Libya: Tawergha, city of Blacks, depopulated – Rep. Jesse Jackson calls for investigation of ‘crimes against humanity’
A Black Star News report follows the remarks made by NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, giving the seal of approval to the ethnic cleansing.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr, who served as a national co-chairman of the 2008 Obama election campaign and who is a civil rights activist and stated on Wednesday:
“Racism in the form of ethnic cleansing, killing and genocide is wrong anytime, anyplace and against anybody in the world. And it appears as though the rebel leader, Mahmoud Jibril, is using the American idea that the South used to protect the institution of slavery – the 10th Amendment in our Constitution – to say, in essence, ‘it’s a states’ right and local control issue.’”
“Well, it’s not a local issue and it’s a moral outrage,” he added.
“As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ As a senior member of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, I intend to raise this issue with my colleagues and condition any financial support for the reconstruction of Libya and its transition to a democratic society.”
“I think it is absolutely necessary that the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in the Hague investigate what I consider to be crimes against humanity,” Rep. Jackson said.
As the SFBayView states:
The White House has yet to issue a single statement condemning this ethnic cleansing of Black people. Hillary Clinton’s Department of State remains mute. The leaders of organizations that profess to protect the rights of Black people, such as the NAACP’s Ben Jealous and the National Urban League’s Marc Morial, have yet to make statements. Surely, someone must read The Wall Street Journal.
As the SFBayView also states:
Other major corporate media, such as The New York Times, CNN and BBC, all of which to varying degrees surrendered pretense at “objectivity” and openly supported the NATO bombardments, are now in a bind. They have yet to report major stories on the ethnic cleansing in Misrata and Tawergha. Rather than concede that the side they supported in the civil war is carrying out war crimes, they would rather suppress the story.
The reaction of the United Nations
As yet there has been little direct response from the United Nations to the Black Star News:
Even the United Nations was unable to respond today to the ethnic cleansing reports when contacted by The Black Star News and after the Journal’s reports were forwarded. A spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was asked whether the targeted actions qualified as ethnic cleansing, whether they qualified as war crimes and whether the United Nations is demanding an investigation.
The spokesman, Eduardo del Buey, ignored the specific questions and responded with a statement from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, which states in part “In situations of transition or unrest, restraint must be observed.” The spokesman explained:
“We are not commenting on media reports. the high commissioner speaks to the issue of human rights, and this is what she has said to date in Libya,”
Navi Pillay recently stated that “expectations that the UN will play its part are high and we must not disappoint them” – our expectation is that she will take some urgent action to protect civilians in Libya by working to bring an end to the NATO bombing and also make a firm statement, not just about the fate of migrant workers in Libya, but also about the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha and the abuses being committed against dark-skinned Libyans.
UN Resolution 2009 (2011)
This resolution, passed on Friday, makes some important provisions including:
“Strongly condemning all violations of applicable human rights and international humanitarian law, including violations that involve unlawful killings, other uses of violence against civilians, or arbitrary arrests and detentions, in particular of African migrants and members of minority communities’
South Africa’s representative, however, expressed disappointment that the resolution did not call specifically for the protection of the human rights of African migrants. Alongside the Russian Federation’s representative and other speakers, he also called for the early lifting of the no-fly zone. South Africa’s representative, however, expressed disappointment that the resolution did not call specifically for the protection of the human rights of African migrants. Alongside the Russian Federation’s representative and other speakers, he also called for the early lifting of the no-fly zone.
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.
We have been following the fate of the people of Tawargha since one of the Misratan rebel commanders threatened to wipe Tawargha off the map. The same commander then turned up on camera with Orla Guerin of the BBC, as Tawargha was taken by the rebels with NATO support and the inhabitants fled. There can be no doubt that NATO commanders were fully complicit in this ethnic cleansing.
Al Jazeera reported that the inhabitants had been handed over ot the Red Cross but the ICRC were unable to confirm this and there have been rumours of a mass grave. The fate of the prisoners shown loaded into a shipping container is unknown.
Now Amnesty International’s Diana Elthaway reports that the 10,000s of Tawarghans who have fled to Tripoli (and other dark-skinned-Libyans) are facing continuing persecution from the Misratan rebels who have now caught up with them in the capital.
One lady from Tawargha describes how the townsfolk fled:
“When the thuwwar entered our town in mid-Ramadan [mid-August] and shelled it, we fled just carrying the clothes on our backs. I don’t know what happened to our homes and belongings. Now I am here in this camp, my son is ill and I am too afraid to go to the hospital in town. I don’t know what will happen to us now.”
The evidence suggests that Tawarghas are fearful of going outside, cannot return home and have been abused, detained (even whilst in hospital) and gone missing:
Some Tawarghas who have been detained in Tripoli are said to have been made to kneel facing the wall, and then been beaten with sticks and whips. Others have simply vanished after being arrested at checkpoints and taken from hospitals by armed revolutionaries (thuwwar).
On 29 August, Amnesty International delegates saw a Tawargha patient at the Tripoli Central Hospital being taken by three men for “questioning in Misratah” and were told about at least two other Tawargha men had vanished after being taken for questioning from Tripoli hospitals. A 45-year-old flight dispatcher and his uncle were arrested by armed rebels while out shopping in the al-Firnaj area of Tripoli on 28 August.
Even in the refugee camps, the Tawarghas are not safe. Towards the end of last month, a group of armed men drove into the camp and arrested about 14 men – and their relatives do not know of their fate.
Amnesty also report that “in addition to Tawarghas, other black Libyans including from the central Sabha district as well as sub-Saharan Africans continue to be at particular risk of reprisals and arbitrary arrests, on account of their skin colour and widespread reports that al-Gaddafi forces used “African mercenaries” to repress supporters of the NTC.”
Sabha is a city in south-central Libya, formerly capital of Fezzan which was historically one of the three provinces of Libya and fully became part of the Kingdom of Libya in 1951 when the French left. In 2006, the population of Fezzan was 442,090 constituting 7.8% of the Libyan population.
Sabha is mainly inhabited by Libyans of mixed and black African descent and the population is temporarily safe from being massacred by the hostile rebels from Misrata or from the Western Mountains due to its geographical remoteness as the routes to Sabha traverse large expanses of barren and desert landscape, although there is a metalled road which the rebels will no doubt be travelling down once they have dealt with the conundrum of Bani Walid.
As well as the native inhabitants, more than 1,200 African migrants are stranded in the towm according to the International Organization for Migration.
In a statement, the IOM said “there is no longer any political infrastructure in Sabha” able to support the migrants until evacuation plans are organised.
“With no electricity, fuel and little food and water, the situation for the migrants and those in the town is becoming increasingly difficult,”
Moreover, Sabha is not safe from NATO bombing, as this tweet from UK Military Spokesman Maj Gen Nick Pope indicates:
This long-range mission would have required logistical support from the US and the consent of “son-of-Africa,” Barack Obama.
Please click here for a comprehensive update on the Tawergha
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.”