North Africa Theater

Thousands detained without charge in Libya

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Dec. 2 that thousands of people, including children, are being arbitrarily detained in Libya. The report highlights torture and other forms of ill-treatment in four prisons in Tripoli and Misrata, which were personally visited by HRW representatives. The report is based upon interviews conducted by HRW with 120 detainees, none of whom have been charged with a crime or granted the opportunity to appear before a judge. According to HRW, the detainees provided "credible and consistent" accounts of mistreatment. HRW representatives saw signs of mistreatment such as beatings on the soles of the feet with plastic pipe, electrical cable, chains, sticks, fists, and even horsewhips; suspension from doors or ceilings for hours; electrical shocks; and solitary confinement. Stating that "Prolonged detention without judicial reviews is a grave violation of international law and may amount to a crime against humanity," HRW urged the UN Security Council to increase pressure on Libya to order the immediate release of all those who have been wrongfully detained. HRW has also called upon the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to open an investigation into arbitrary detentions in Libya.

ISIS preparing 'retreat zone' in Libya?

The Independent cites a report from the UN Security Council finding that ISIS is preparing a "retreat zone" in Libya as coalition air-strikes (and a ground offensive by Kurdish-led forces, as the account fails to note) threaten the group's territory in Iraq and Syria. The Libyan affiliate is said to  be the one ISIS franchise actually operating under the direction of the leadership in Iraq and Syria. The leadership is said to view Libya as "a potential retreat and operational zone for Isil fighters unable to reach the Middle East." The Libya franchise is said to have between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters. Franchise leader Abu al-Mughirah al-Qahtani is quoted boasting of the country's importance due to its proximity to southern Europe and its abundance of resources "that cannot dry." 

Berbers symbolically raise Kabylia flag at UN

A large crowd of Berber (Amazigh) residents of Algeria's Kabylia region gathered Nov. 12 at the town of Bouzeguène (Wizgan in the Berber language, Tamazight) to symbolically raise the flag of their homeland. The action was called by the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement (MAK), whose president Bouaziz Ait Chebib oversaw the ceremony. The MAK has been demanding recognition of Amazigh language and cultural rights in Algeria, and advancing a right to self-determination for the Kabylia region if these demands are not met. The crowd at Wizgan applauded when it was announced that the Kingdom of Morocco had committed to raise the issue of self-determination for Kabylia at the United Nations. (Morocco World News, Nov. 17; Siwel, Nov. 12)

Glencore secures Libya oil contract

Media accounts Nov. 20 report that Glencore, the commodity trader with global mining operations, has secured a deal with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to broker the nation's crude. The agreement, initiated in September with an option to renew in December, covers 150,000 barrels a day, or roughly half the amount currently being exported. According to Reuters: "Under the arrangement...Glencore loads and finds buyers for all the Sarir and Messla crude oil exported from the Marsa el-Hariga port near the country's eastern border with Egypt." The reports portray the deal as uncontroversial. The Financial Times writes: "The National Oil Corporation, along with the central bank, is one of the few institutions still functioning in Libya, where a civil war has left the country divided between an internationally recognised government in the east and an Islamist militia in the west that controls the capital Tripoli." In fact, the NOC is also divided, with feuding branches controlled by the rival regimes. Marsa el-Hariga is just outside Tobruk, exiled seat of the recognized government. We can be certain that the Glencore deal will raise protests (at least) from Tripoli.

UN: ISIS brutality increasing in Libya

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) released a 37-page report (PDF) Nov. 16 calling on those with ground-level control to declare that recent acts by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other militants will not be tolerated and "to immediately take action to stop acts in breach of international human rights and humanitarian law." The report highlights that against the background of factional infighting and the breakdown of the justice system, ISIS has gained control over large areas of Libya and committed such atrocities as public beheadings for political or religious affiliation, amputations and floggings. Several Libyan armed groups have pledged allegiance to ISIS and are actively fighting against both the internationally-recognized fovernment and other factions that have not declared such allegiance. The report outlines other abuses such as arbitrary civilian abduction, property destruction and looting, inhumane incarceration and torture performed by ISIS and other armed groups, and classifies these events as potential war crimes.

France bombs Syria; US bombs Libya

French warplanes carried out air-strikes on the ISIS capital Raqqa, just two days after the "Islamic State" claimed the attacks in Paris that are now said to have killed 130 people. The raids, involving 10 planes launched from Jordan and United Arab Emirates, struck a "command center," a "recruitment center," a "munitions depot" and a "training camp," according to the French Defense Ministry. There is no report of casualties, so far. (France24, Alas, even "progressive" news sources like The Guardian are referring to Raqqa as an "ISIS stronghold"—which (in a rhetorical device we have noted before) implicitly legitimizes attacks on the civil populace. In fact, the civil resistance that is active throughout Syria even has a presence in Raqqa—activists there have been heroically documenting ISIS crimes and even protesting jihadist rule. They even have a website, maintained by their friends abroad, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The already precarious position of these courageous activists cannot have improved since Raqqa has come under bombardment by both the US and Bashar Assad's warplanes—and now those of François Hollande.

UK Supreme Court hears Libya rendition claim

The UK Supreme Court on Nov. 9 began hearings in the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who claims the British government assisted in his 2004 rendition by US forces. Belhaj and his wife were arrested in Bangkok in 2004 and returned to Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, where he spent six years in prison. Belhaj first filed his lawsuit in 2012. In 2013 the British High Court threw out the claim, stating that hearing the claim was barred by the Acts of State doctrine. However, in October 2014, the Court of Appeals found that the claim is not barred because "it falls within a limitation on grounds of public policy in cases of violations of international law and fundamental human rights." The court stated that while the Acts of State doctrine is valid, it does not stop a British court from examining whether British agencies, officials or ministers were separately culpable. The case will be heard by seven judges over four days, who will decide whether Belhaj can sue the British government, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), known as MI6, for alleged complicity with US intelligence over his treatment.

Libya: oil output plummets as rival regimes fight

Libya's oil output dropped below 400,000 barrels per day after the divided country's internationally recognized government in the east sent troops of the Petroleum Facilities Guard to close the port of Zueitina on Nov. 5, charging that tankers seeking to load crude there had failed to register with the National Oil Corporation (NOC). Vessels registered with the rival NOC headquarters in Tripoli are "illegitimate" and won't be permitted to load at the port, Petroleum Guard spokesman Ali al-Hasy told Bloomberg by phone. The Tripoli-based NOC declared force majeure and said in a statement that the port was closed for all exports due to a "deteriorated security situation." Libya, with Africa's largest oil reserves, pumped about 1.6 million barrels per day of crude before the 2011 revolution. Libya is currently the smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. (More at Hellenic Shipping News, Maritime Executive, Aramco FuelFix, Nov. 5)