North Africa Theater
Rival militias in Libya are committing serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, according to an Amnesty International (AI) report released Oct. 30. According to AI, since July 2013, "militias and armed groups have launched indiscriminate attacks in urban areas of the capital, Warshafana (southwest of Tripoli) and Zawiya with complete disregard for civilians and civilian objects, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to seek protection in safer parts of Libya or across its international borders." The report cites UN High Commission for Refuges data showing that since October of this year 287,000 people have been displaced in the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi and surrounding areas. According to AI,100,000 people are estimated to have fled Libya to neighboring countries. In addition to allegations of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, the AI report also contains allegations of widespread civilian kidnappings carried out by all parties to the conflict. Civilians and captured militia members have provided AI with detailed accounts of torture and ill-treatment in captivity including, "prolonged beatings...electric shock, [and being] suspended in contorted positions for hours." The AI report also provides detailed accounts of alleged summary killings and attacks targeting human rights workers and journalists.
A British court ruled (PDF) Oct. 30 that a former Libyan rebel commander can sue the British government for its alleged role in his detention and rendition. In 2004, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife were arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, and returned to Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, where he spent years in prison. Belhaj first filed the lawsuit in 2012. Last year the British High Court threw out the claim, saying it was not a matter for the British courts and barred by the Acts of State doctrine. However, the Court of Appeal has now 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 went on to state that "[u]nless the English courts were able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations would go uninvestigated and the appellants would be left without any legal recourse or remedy." Along with the British government, Belhaj is attempting to sue former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), known as M16, for alleged complicity with US intelligence over his treatment.
Amid fierece fighting in Benghazi, AP cites unnamed "officials" as saying Egyptian warplanes have bombed Islamist positions in the eastern Libyan city. In the ongoing "Operation Dignity," led by renegade Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a tank assault is currently underway against an area of the city controlled by the 17 February Brigade, according to Libya Herald. Meanwhile in Tripoli, the Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) coalition, led by Islamist militia from Misrata, has seized government ministry buildings and now controls their websites. The website of Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni—who now sits with his cabinet in the eastern city of Bayda—shows the picture of the man the Misrata rebels have declared as prime minister, Omar al-Hasi. Libyan Dawn, now calling itself the National Salvation government, has also taken over the website of the National Oil Corp. (Reuters)
With Islamist-led militia in nearly complete control of the Libyan capital, the historic Othman Pasha Madrassa in Tripoli's Old City was vandalized Oct. 11 by a crowd of gunmen. The door to the madrassa was smashed, books and Korans stolen, and the tree in the center of the courtyard chopped down, in "an act of apparent sheer vindictiveness." The madrassa was apparently targeted because it has for many years been a Sufi institution. It had been similarly attacked two years ago, with graves from its cemetery dug up and the remains removed. Also Oct. 11, gunmen attempted to invade the Darghouth Mosque across a narrow street from the madrassa, but were prevented by armed locals. (Libya Herald, Oct. 12)
Benghazi is in a "state of shock" after at least nine well-known civil rights activists and army officers were assassinated in the eastern port city on Sept. 19, dubbed by local media "Black Friday." Four are said to have survived the assassinations, which targeted at least 13 people. The Unidentified gunmen killed a four current and former senior army officers, as well as two popular youth activists and bloggers, Tawfik Bensaud and Sami Elkawafi—aged 18 and 17. Days earlier, Bensaud had said in an interview with Huffington Post: "A military movement alone can’t solve the crisis; there must a civil movement that works parallel to it. If youth are given a chance, they can find a peaceful solution. My message to Libya's youth is, you are powerful and you can make change. You just need to take the opportunity and act." (Middle East Eye, IBT, Libyan Youth Voices, Sept. 20)
A new armed group calling itself the "Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria" has split from al-Qaeda's North African framchise and sworn loyalty to ISIS. In a communique released Sept. 14, a regional commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said he has from the group, accusing it of "deviating from the true path." Seeming to address ISIS "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the commander, Gouri Abdelmalek AKA Khaled Abu Suleimane, wrote, "You have in the Islamic Maghreb men if you order them they will obey you." The newly created "Caliphate Soldiers" or "Jound al Khilafa fi Ard al Jazayer" is the second group to break with AQIM and pledge loyalty to ISIS, the first one being Mokhtar Belmokhtar's "Those who sign in Blood," which observers say is now likely based in southern Libya. (Reuters, Al Jazeera, Sept. 15)
Libyan militia forces battling for control of Tripoli and surrounding areas have engaged in attacks on civilians and civilian property that in some cases amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 8. Thousands of residents fled their homes during five weeks of fighting between the Libyan Dawn alliance, led by militias from the coastal city of Misrata, and a coalition of militias from the inland mountain town of Zintan. Human Rights Watch has documened a series of attacks by Libyan Dawn forces on civilians and civilian property since they took control of Tripoli, beginning with its civilian airport, on Aug. 24. "Commanders on both sides need to rein in their forces and end the cycle of abuses or risk being first in line for possible sanctions and international prosecution," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.
The Libyan government—now exiled to the eastern city of Tobruk—expelled the Sudanese military attaché on Sept. 6, charging that a Sudanese military transport loaded with munitions illegally entered Libyan airspace bound for Tripoli's Mitiga airport. The weapons were discovered when the plane stopped to refuel at the southern oasis town of Kufra, and were presumably intended for the Islamist-led Libyran Dawn rebels that are now in control of Tripoli. "Sudan is interposing itself by providing arms to a terrorist group that is attacking the headquarters of the state," said a government statement. "This also represents a clear violation of international resolutions, and the latest UN Security Council resolution." Sudan confirmed sending the plane but insisted the weapons were intended for legitimate border forces patrolling the southern desert. "The plane did not carry any material for armed groups in Libya," Sudan's army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid told the local TV channel Shouruq. (The Guardian, Sept. 7; Libya Herald, Sept. 6)