Invisible persecution of Black Libyans

The Libyan government took control of Tripoli’s international airport on April 20 from the Zintan militia that has had control of the site since Moammar Qaddafi was deposed last year (sometimes in contest with rival militias). The deal to turn over the airport followed months of negotiations about jobs and salaries for the militia’s members. It was portrayed by Reuters as an important step in consolidation of the new government’s authority. Failing to make the wire services, Amnesty International on April 19 called on the National Transitional Council (NTC) to investigate and prosecute abuses against members of the Tawargha community, outside the city of Misrata, following another report of a community member being tortured to death at a detention center run by local militias. The body of a 44-year-old father of two was delivered to his family on April 16, covered with bruises and cuts, including an open wound to the back of the head, Amnesty said. More than a dozen torture-deaths in militia custody have been documented by Amnesty since September, with Tawarghas constituting a high proportion of victims.

The town of Tawargha was used as a staging ground by pro-Qaddafi forces in their siege of Misrata; after the regime fell, anti-Qaddafi militias forced most of the inhabitants to flee. Many were subsequently rounded up from displaced persons camps and detained by the anti-Qaddafi militias. Others were seized at checkpoints, and even from hospitals. The Tawargha are described as “black Libyans,” although it is not clear if they are descended from Black African migrants or are an indigenous ethnicity.

Although it hasn’t been reported since, AFP reported April 10 that clashes were continuing in the southern desert cities of Sabha and Kufra between Arabs against “non-Arab tribesmen,” having claimed over 250 lives since February. Although no further identification of the “tribesmen” was given, this is presumably a reference to the Toubou, an indigenous Black African people of southern Libya.

International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is meanwhile in Libya to discuss the case of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of the late dictator, who was indicted by the ICC last year for hiring mercenaries to kill civilians who protested his father’s rule. Moreno-Ocampo said NTC authorities have gathered evidence to bring Saif al-Islam to trial, and that he has given the new Libyan government until the end of April to present the evidence to the ICC to determine whether Saif should be tried in Libya or at The Hague. If he is found guilty by a national court, he could face death the penalty, but would face a prison term if convicted by the ICC. (Jurist, April 20)

See our last post on the struggle in Libya.

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  1. More confused fighting in Libya’s south
    Reuters on June 9 tells us two were killed when Libya’s “armed forces” intervened in fighting between the Tibu and Zwai tribes, with accounts predictably differing as to whether the Tibu had attacked the city of al-Kufra, or were defending themselves from an attack by the Zwai. The Tibu are presumably the Toubou, although this is an ethnicity not a mere “tribe.” Al-Arabiya informs us that the Zwai are an Arab tribe.

  2. …and still more confused fighting in Libya’s south
    Tripoli Post reports July 1:

    Tribal warfare continued for the fifth day running in the Libyan town of Kufra, according to reports, and at least 47 people have been killed in the last three days alone, while over 100 have reportedly been wounded. Half of the injured are said to be women and children, the majority of them hurt by mortar fire.

    The Toubou and Zawiyah ethnic groups are said to be locked in a bitter conflict to control smuggling in the Saharan oasis of Kufra,located in a triangle where the borders of Chad, Egypt and Sudan converge.

    Nothing is said about who the Zawiyah are, but there is a town in northern Libya of that name, and we surmise the “ethnic group” is an Arab tribe from there, whose militia was dispatched to the Kufra area to put down what is perceived as a Toubou rebellion.