By Jutta Wolf | IDN-InDepthNews Report
BERLIN (IDN) – Amnesty International has appealed to the international community to increase its support to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Libya.
“So far the ICC Prosecutor has failed to undertake any investigations into crimes under international law committed by armed groups since 2011,” when Muammar Gaddafi was deposed after four decades of authoritarian rule, says Amnesty.
ICC Prosecutor’s duties include the investigation and prosecution of the crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The current ICC Prosecutor is Fatou Bensouda from Gambia, who was elected by the 10th session of the Assembly of States Parties and took office on June 15, 2012. Her predecessor was Luis Moreno Ocampo who served since June 16, 2003.
Launching a campaign digest, ‘Vanished off the face of the earth’: Abducted civilians in Libya, Amnesty is calling for an end to “an epidemic of kidnapping blighting” Libya.
According to the Libyan Red Crescent Society (LRCS), as of April 2015, the fate or whereabouts of at least 378 individuals who have gone missing since 2014 remains unknown.
Some 626 reports of missing persons have been filed with LRCS since 2014, the vast majority of which (508) were reported in Benghazi, following the start of the current armed conflicts.
In many cases, abducted civilians were released through prisoner exchanges, according to the LRCS, pointing to hostage-taking. Amnesty International believes however, that the true scale of abductions is under-reported.
Amnesty holds various armed groups and forces across Libya, including those affiliated with rival governments such as Libya Dawn and Operation Dignity forces as well as those pursuing their own agendas, responsible for abductions of civilians on account of their origin, opinion, perceived political affiliation or tribal belonging.
“In some cases, abductions appear to be carried out in order to secure a ransom or prisoner exchange, which amounts to hostage-taking, a war crime,” says the Amnesty report.
Civilians, including children, it adds, are usually abducted from their homes, workplaces, gas stations, checkpoints and on the street. Among those abducted are journalists, activists, members of the judiciary targeted for their activities, public officials, civil servants, aid workers and foreign nationals abducted on account of their religion, race or nationality.
Said Boumedouha, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme warned: “Civilians in Libya are living on a knife edge. Widespread lawlessness and chaos have been exacerbated by routine abductions, as armed groups tighten their stranglehold on the country.”
Boumedouha added. “The collapse of central authority and the absence of law enforcement and a functioning justice system in Libya has created an atmosphere of pervasive impunity which has allowed perpetrators of such abductions to evade prosecution and accountability.”
According to Amnesty, those abducted by armed groups are routinely tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. “Many are beaten, threatened with death, held blindfolded for several days, verbally and physically assaulted and often tortured with electric shocks or forced into stress positions. Several have died after being tortured or were summarily killed – their bodies later dumped on the side of the road,” says the global human rights organization.
According to Amnesty, those abducted include activists, public officials and other civilians seized by unknown assailants based on their political affiliations or in relation to their work.
Among them are 71-year-old former General National Congress member, Suleiman Zobi, and Abdel Moez Banoun, a political rights activist and blogger. He was kidnapped from a parked car near his home after speaking out against the presence of militias in Tripoli and organizing protests on this theme.
Banoun is reported to have been missing for more than 300 days. His brother said he had “vanished off the face of the earth”. Nasser al-Jaroushi, a prosecutor, was abducted after investigating the murder of human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis as well as looking into criminal drug gangs.
Humanitarian aid workers Mohamed al-Tahrir Aziz, Mohamed al-Munsaf al-Shalali and Waleed Ramadan Shalhoub were abducted on June 5 as they were on their way to distribute supplies to towns affected by fighting in south-west Libya.
Others who face abductions, according to Amnesty, include migrant workers, foreign consular staff, and members of the Tawargha community who were displaced from their hometown in 2011.
Parties to the conflict
The Libya Dawn coalition is one of the parties to the current conflict in Libya. It was formed in mid-2014, and is made up of militias and armed groups from several cities and towns across western Libya.
Another party to the conflict, Operation Dignity was initially launched in eastern Libya by a coalition of rebel army officers under the leadership of General Khalifa Haftar – himself a retired officer at the time who has since been appointed General Commander of the Libyan Army.
In October 2014, the House of Representatives, Libya’s elected parliament, endorsed Operation Dignity as an operation under the General Chief of Staff of the Libyan army. Operation Dignity forces are made up of several former army units, including the 21st Sa’iqa Battalion (Special Forces), the 36th Battalion, the Air Force, Naval Force and the 204th Tank Battalion, most of whom had defected from the al-Gaddafi army in 2011 and entered the ranks of the nascent Libyan army, which was in the process of being rebuilt.
Libya Dawn opponents in western Libya including from the town of Zintan and Warshafana area have allied themselves with Operation Dignity, while some residents of Benghazi, known as Sahawat, have been armed by and urged to fight with Operation Dignity forces against forces of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries.
Elsewhere, armed groups which aim to enforce their own interpretation of Islamic Law in Libya such as those that have pledged their allegiance to the IS have consolidated their power, and are engaged in fighting forces affiliated with both governments.
Amnesty is calling on all armed groups to:
Immediately stop the abduction of civilians and unconditionally release anyone held on account of their political and tribal affiliation, opinion, place of origin or ethnicity.
Publicly condemn torture and hostage-taking; inform families of the fate and whereabouts of their abducted relatives; and, ensure that all those deprived of their liberty are treated humanely and are allowed to communicate with their family;
Treat all detainees, including captured fighters, humanely, protect them from torture and other ill-treatment and allow them to communicate with their families; and, hold all detainees in premises that are removed from areas of fighting. [IDN-InDepthNews – 6 August 2015]
Image: Cover of Amnesty’s Report on Abductions in Libya