Out of control: NTC militias run amok in Libya

Human rights groups say the number of revenge killings by revolutionary forces in Libya is escalating sharply. HRW suggests NTC fighters are terrorizing displaced residents of the coastal town of Tawergha for supporting the old regime.

Human Rights Watch reports that the entire town of 30,000 people has been abandoned, with some of it ransacked and burned. Meanwhile, Misrata brigade commanders say the residents of Tawergha should never return.

Some people from Tawergha who have fled to other parts of the country gave accounts of Misrata militias shooting unarmed civilians and arresting and beating detainees. They say in a few cases those beatings have led to death.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) the people of Tawergha fled the town in August and headed to the Jufra region, south of Misrata. Local authorities put the number of displaced Tawergha people there at 15,000.

Fred Abrahams from Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report outlining these abuses says that the Misrata militia is specifically targeting those they believe were Gaddafi loyalists.

”They accuse them of having fought for Gaddafi, for having committed atrocities in his name,” he said.“The problem here is that the militias are not under the control of the political [or] civilian authorities.”

Abrahams says the big challenge for Libya, if it wants to move on, is bringing the many militias under a unified civilian command. So far that has not been accomplished. According to HRW research there are at least 100 armed groups in Misrata alone. The overall situation in Libya can only be guessed at.

HRW talked to a Misrata brigade that claimed to be “protecting the place from arson and looting.” Brigade members ardently stated that the Tawreghans should never return after “what they did in Misrata.” The dialogue took place against a backdrop of trucks full of furniture and carpets, allegedly looted from homes, driving past.

Abrahams told RT that while on the political level the NTC leadership has been very good, the NTC is failing to control the many armed militias across the country.

”[NTC] condemns revenge, they say Libya is about building a future with human rights and the rule of law,” he said. “The problem is that the hundreds of militias have many weapons now, and they say ‘Look, we fought, we lost comrades in this battle and now we want to have a stake or seat at the table.’ Bringing them under control will be difficult.”

Ibrahim Yusuf bin Ghashir, an NTC member from Misrata, told HRW that the passions aroused by alleged atrocities make it unlikely that the Tawerghans will ever return to their town.

“We think it would be better to relocate them somewhere else, give them housing and compensation for their losses in Tawergha,” he said. “These cases cannot be forgiven, and it would be better to resettle them far away.”

NATO officially ended its operation in Libya on October 31, but it looks like the continued abuse of civilians by militias could have been a good reason for NATO to stay.

HRW’s Fred Abrahams says that while NATO’s mission in Libya has ended, it does not mean that that of international community has.

”This was an intervention to protect civilians,” he argued. “There was a military action that caused this dramatic transition in Libya, [now] there is a responsibility to make sure the transition works. That means that the United Nations and governments that were active in the NATO campaign, Arab states, like Qatar, all of them have to be engaged in helping Libya.”

Earlier this month 300 bodies of alleged Gaddafi allies were found around Sirte, with 53 more decomposing bodies found in an abandoned hotel in the town. Most of them had been shot in the head with their hands tied behind their backs. Most are believed to have been residents of Sirte, some of them Gaddafi supporters. Experts say the bodies’ postures and the bullet wounds suggest they had probably been revenge killings.

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