Ethnic cleansing in Libya?

Tuaregs in Mali and Niger have founded an ad hoc human rights group, Defense of Foreigners in Libya, accusing anti-Qaddafi forces of detaining and abusing some 300 foreign nationals, mostly Tuaregs. “What is happening in Libya is very serious,” said the group’s Ousmane ag-Ahmed. “Foreigners, essentially Tuaregs from Mali and Niger, are being jailed and tortured.” He said Tuarges in Libya are being “hunted in the streets,” citing the case of six reported missing and rumored to have been killed and buried in a mass grave. The group is coordinated from Kidal, Mali, and Agadez, Niger. It has called upon the governments of both countries to help secure the release of their nationals.

Reports also mount of reprisals against Black Africans. EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement Sept. 14: “I remain very concerned at recent reports of human rights violations in Libya, including cases of arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings… The situation of non-combatant sub-Saharan populations and black Libyans is especially worrying. Stigmatized as being pro-Qaddafi mercenaries because of the color of their skin, these groups are particularly vulnerable and must be adequately protected.”

On Sept. 13, Amnesty International accused the anti-Qaddafi forces of war crimes, calling upon the National Transitional Council to halt reprisal attacks, arbitrary arrests and summary executions. The group charged that dozens of suspected Qaddafi collaborators have been killed in detainment since February in eastern Libya. The report, “The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearances and Torture,” stated that “while al-Gaddafi forces committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, forces opposed to Colonel al-Gaddafi also committed human rights abuses including war crimes.” (AFP, NOW Lebanon, AI, Sept. 14)

Reporters have raised concerns about the town of Tawergha, where the Qaddafi-loyalist forces coordinated their long siege of Misrata. The town is now deserted. The residents—many of them Black Africans—are in two refugee camps that have been established near Tripoli, saying that anti-Qaddafi forces drove them from their homes. Mahmoud Jibril, the NTC prime minister, reportedly said: “Regarding Tawergha, my own viewpoint is that nobody has the right to interfere in this matter except the people of Misrata.”

Amnesty International researcher Dalia Eltahawy called upon the NTC to “investigate and bring to justice” those responsible for abuses at Tawergha “to avoid a culture of impunity.” But NTC leaders, in their response, made no mention of Tawergha, promising only to “move quickly…to make sure similar abuses are avoided in areas of continued conflict such as Bani Walid and Sirte.” (WSJ, McClatchy Newspapers, Sept. 13)

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