With news of civilians being massacred in Bani Walid in Libya, there has been a resounding silence on human rights abuses and lawless militias. This is despite the intervention being justified by the USA, France and UK governments on 'humanitarian' grounds.
Vijay Prashad has written an interest article in The Hindu on the current situation in Libya a year on,
'Hanging over the Libyan security situation is the lack of accountability for war crimes during the February-October revolution of 2011. On May 2, 2012, the Libyan National Transitional Council granted blanket amnesty to those who committed crimes during the revolution, including murder and forced displacement. Law 38 (On Some Procedures for the Transitional Period) essentially allowed the militias the confidence of impunity. It emboldened them to disregard the war crimes conducted last year, and to consider that their actions in the present will also be similarly forgiven. The danger of “victor’s justice” is that it creates a political grammar that affects the new terrain, allowing the militias institutional support for their lawless behaviour.
Rights report on militias
Rights report on militias
A new report from Human Rights Watch (Death of a Dictator: Bloody Vengeance in Sirte, October 2012) details how the main Misrata-based militias (al-Nimer, Tiger Brigade, al-Isnad, Support Brigade, al-Fahad, Jaguar Brigade, al-Asad, Lion Brigade, al-Qasba, Citadel Brigade and Ussoud al-Walid, the Lions of the Valley Brigade) not only conducted extrajudicial assassinations of Muammar Qadhafi and his son Mutassim, but also killed over 66 prisoners in the Mahari hotel in Sirte on October 20, 2011. Two NATO air strikes had already killed about 103 members of Qadhafi’s convoy (many of them wounded patients from the Ibn Sina hospital, trying to flee the scene of the battle). Cellphone images and photographs, as well as interviews with survivors, showed the investigators that the dead were killed in custody. Human Rights Watch’s investigation is clear that war crimes had been committed at Sirte. The Misrata chief prosecutor balked at an inquiry, saying that it would be too “dangerous” to “carry out an investigation in Sirte at the time,” a situation that seems unchanged.
The Misrata militias are particularly prone to lawlessness. They are accused of the forcible displacement of the 30,000 dark-skinned residents of the town of Tawergha, and in the cellphone images from Sirte, their members routinely use racist epithets (“black snake,” for example) against their prisoners. There has been little attempt to resettle Tawergha.
The Misrata militia has laid siege to the city of Bani Walid, where there has been less enthusiasm for the new Libya, and whose citizens have been accused of kidnapping and killing Omar Bin Shaaban, a 22-year-old Misratan credited with the murder of Qadhafi. Misrata’s militias are acting with the authority of the government, which passed Resolution 7 on September 25 to allow them to go in and capture those who killed Bin Shaaban. The militias are not constrained to simply go and arrest the accused. They want to subdue Bani Walid. As Mohammed el-Gandus, a spokesperson for the militias put it, “If we win this fight, Libya will finally be free.”
The atmosphere of impunity does not only shroud the activities of the militias. The passage of Resolution 7 and Law 38 demonstrate that the Libyan government has not taken the regime of human rights seriously. The International Criminal Court (ICC), so eager to enter the conflict in February 2011, has also taken a back seat. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 gives the ICC jurisdiction over the Libyan theatre at least during the conflict phase; it has utterly failed to honour these obligations. Furthermore, NATO entered the Libyan conflict to protect civilians in the name of the human rights regime. Nevertheless, NATO and the Atlantic powers have refused to allow any evaluation of their use of firepower against Libya with resulting civilian casualties whose numbers are unaccountable (as I showed in “When Protector Turned Killer,” The Hindu, June 11, 2012). NATO’s casualties include the dead in Sirte. Its drones struck the convoy, leaving them at the will of the Misrata militias'.