Monday, October 31, 2011

HumanRights Watch reports terrror from anti-Qadhafi squads

 The deserted town of Tawergha. (Photo Daniel Etter)

Militias from the city of Misrata are terrorizing the displaced residents of the nearby town of Tawergha, accusing them of having committed atrocities with Gaddafi forces in Misrata, Human Rights Watch said today. The entire town of 30,000 people is abandoned – some of it ransacked and burned – and Misrata brigade commanders say the residents of Tawergha should never return.
The National Transitional Council (NTC) should bring central command and control, as well as accountability, to the more than 100armed groups from Misrata, Human Rights Watch said. Anyone abusing Tawerghans, or preventing their return, is committing a criminal offense.
The people of Tawergha mostly fled in August to the Jufra region, south of Misrata, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which put the number of displaced Tawerghans there at 15,000. Local officials in Hun, a town in Jufra, said 4,000 Tawerghans had sought shelter in three camps there as of early October, and an unknown number are in the town of Sokna and nearby agricultural settlements. Since then, at least 5,000 Tawerghans have moved from Jufra to Benghazi and Tripoli, and other groups are in Tarhuna, Khoms, and the far south.

Human Rights Watch also reported that 53 people, apparent Gaddafi supporters, seem to have been executed at a hotel in Sirte last week. The hotel is in an area of the city that was under the control of anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.  “We found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi supporters, at an abandoned hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who investigated the killings. “This requires the immediate attention of the Libyan authorities to investigate what happened and hold accountable those responsible.”
  Anti-Gaddafi forces are organized in brigades whose primary loyalty is to their city of origin. Many Libyan cities have numerous brigades, small groups of fighters who operate semi-independently during battles. More than 100 brigades (katiba) operate in the city of Misrata alone. On the walls of the Hotel Mahari, Human Rights Watch saw the names of five known Misrata-based fighting groups, who had apparently based themselves in the hotel. At the entrance, as well as on the inside and outside walls, was prominently written the “Tiger Brigade” (Al-Nimer). In numerous places on other walls were written the “Support Brigade” (Al-Isnad), the Jaguar Brigade (Al-Fahad), the Lion Brigade (Al-Asad), and the Citadel Brigade (Al-Qasba). There is no direct evidence that these five brigades were involved in the executions, but their apparent presence in the hotel requires immediate investigation, Human Rights Watch said.
“The evidence suggests that some of the victims were shot while being held as prisoners, when that part of Sirte was controlled by anti-Gaddafi brigades who appear to act outside the control of the National Transitional Council,” Bouckaert said. “If the NTC fails to investigate this crime it will signal that those who fought against Gaddafi can do anything without fear of prosecution.”
Bodies in the garden of the mahari Hotel. Local people put them in body bags. (Photo HRW)

At a separate site in Sirte, Human Rights Watch saw the badly decomposed bodies of 10 people who had apparently also been executed. The bodies had been dumped in a water reservoir in District 2 of the city. The identity of the victims was unknown, and it was not possible to establish whether Gaddafi forces or anti-Gaddafi fighters were responsible. From the state of decomposition of the bodies, it appears they were killed prior to October 12.
Medical officials in Sirte told Human Rights Watch that pro-Gaddafi forces had carried out executions in the city. They said that medical teams and anti-Gaddafi fighters found at least 23 bodies, their hands bound, between October 15 and October 20.

The executions at the Mahari Hotel came to light just days after the still unexplained deaths of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi and his son Muatassim Gaddafi while in the custody of fighters from Misrata. Both men were captured alive in Sirte on October 20.
At the site where Muammar Gaddafi was captured, Human Rights Watch found the remains of at least 95 people who had apparently died that day. The vast majority had apparently died in the fighting and NATO strikes prior to Gaddafi’s capture, but between six and ten of the dead appear to have been executed at the site with gunshot wounds to the head and body.

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