Libya: evidence of mass executions by both sides; Zuma calls for ICC probe of NATO

As fighting continues in Tripoli, Qaddafi once again took to the airwaves to appeal to his followers to “purify” the capital of “rats, crusaders and unbelievers”—indicating that at least some of the city’s TV transmitters remain in his hands. In what accounts called an “audio broadcast on loyalist satellite TV channels,” Qaddafi sounded as defiant—and delusional—as ever:

Libya is for the Libyan people and not for the agents, not for imperialism, not for France, not for Sarkozy, not for Italy. Tripoli is for you, not for those who rely on NATO… The enemy is delusional [sic!!!], NATO is retreating. It cannot go on forever in the air. NATO be damned… We will defeat them with determination, through will, commitment to freedom, sovereignty, dignity and glory. Never be afraid of them, only fear God, you are closer to God than they… Do not leave Tripoli for the rats, do not leave them. Fight them, destroy them. You are the overwhelming majority, you have marched in millions [before]. March with the same millions but fight this time. Fill the streets and the field… Do not be afraid of bombing, you will not be hit. Do not be afraid at all. They are just stun grenades to scare you. Do not be afraid at all, do not surrender Tripoli. [CNN, LAT, Reuters, Aug. 25]

AlJazeera meanwhile reports evidence of a “possible mass execution of political activists” by Qaddafi forces. Visiting a hospital in Tripoli, Al Jazeera’s James Bays said he saw the bodies of 15 men suspected of having been killed a few days earlier as the rebels closed in on the Libyan capital. “The smell here is overpowering,” Bays said from the hospital where a number of bodies lay. “I have counted the bodies of 15 men, we were told there were 17 here. Two bodies were taken away by relatives for burial. We are told these men were political activists who have been arrested over the last few days and weeks and being held near the Gaddafi compound. When the opposition fighters started to enter the compound we are told they were killed. Everyone I have spoken to who has looked at these injuries, all the medical staff, they say they believe that the injuries they see on the bodies of these men have the hallmark of a mass execution.”

Bays said there were no forensic specialists at the hospital, but doctors there have taken photos of the exit and entry wounds, with the intention of providing evidence for investigators. (AlJazeera, Aug. 25)

And AP reports evidence of a “mass killings of noncombatants, detainees and the wounded” by the rebels. Reporters saw some two dozen bodies, some with their wrists tied, scattered around the remains of Qaddafi’s compound, the Bab al-Aziziya. They are thought to be activists from the nearby Qaddafi-stronghold neighborhood of Abu Salim who had set up a tent city outside the compound to protect it from the rebels. (AP, Aug. 25)

In South Africa, the government of President Jacob Zuma called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a probe of NATO’s actions in Libya. Said Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe: “We note they [NATO] are attempting to create the impression that the rebels are acting on their own in their attacks in Tripoli but there are clear links and co-ordination at that level, UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which was aimed at protecting civilians, initially from bombings by the government of Moammar Qaddafi, was in a sense overstretched by the NATO forces.” He asked whether the ICC “will have the wherewithal to unearth that information and bring those who are responsible to book, including the NATO commanders on the ground.”

South Africa, currently a member of the UN Security Council, voted in favor of Resolution 1973. However President Zuma has since protested that NATO has used the resolution to pursue it own interests, going beyond protecting civilians. Zuma earlier this week said the NATO-led use of force had undercut Africa’s peace efforts. “I think that the point we have been making is that those who have a lot of capacity, even the capacity to bombard the countries, really undermined the AU’s initiatives and effort to deal with the matter in Libya,” he told reporters. (Middle East Online, Aug. 25)

There have also been calls for an ICC probe of NATO over civilian casualties in Libya.

See our last post on Libya.

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  1. Tripoli atrocity update
    Amnesty International now says it has evidence of detainees being killed by Qaddafi forces at two military camps in Tripoli. “Eyewitness testimony from escaped detainees described how loyalist troops used grenades and gunfire on scores of prisoners at one camp, while guards at the other camp shot dead five detainees they were holding in solitary confinement,” the statement says. “Even as Colonel al-Gaddafi is cornered, with an ICC warrant active for his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity, his troops continue their flagrant disregard for human life and international humanitarian law.”

    The New York Times meanwhile notes “reports” of some 30 bodies found near Qaddafi’s compound—two with their wrists tied—but says they were “pro-Qaddafi fighters” found at what had been a “military encampment in central Tripoli.” Earlier reports cited above said the bodies could be those of pro-Qaddafi civilians who set up an encampment to protect the compound.

  2. Tripoli atrocity update #2
    BBC News reports Aug. 27 that at least 50 bodies have been found in a warehouse south of Tripoli. Residents of the district of Salah al-Din said they were civilians who had been executed on this week by members of a brigade commanded by Col. Qaddafi’s son, Khamis, before they abandoned a nearby military base. Also, more than 200 decomposing bodies were found at an abandoned hospital in the city’s Abu Salim district. Staff had apparently fled because of the fighting, and many injured patients were left to die.

  3. Tripoli atrocity update #3
    The Independent reports that most of the some 30 bodies found near Qaddafi’s compound were of Black African mercenaries, and reporter Kim Sengupta quotes racist taunts used by the rebels as they gloated over the corpses. It is again noted that at least some of the bodies were bound, and the camp where they were found is now said to have been a Red Crescent bivouac. This is pretty clearly a war crime, and the racial aspect makes it even uglier. But this does appear to contradict initial reports that the men were civilians from a local pro-Qaddafi neighborhood.

    TNC leaders now say now fear for the fate of several thousand detained opposition activists who have disappeared into Qaddafi’s prisons, according to BBC News. “The number of people arrested over the past months is estimated at between 57,000 and 60,000,” Col. Ahmed Omar said at a press conference in Benghazi. “Between 10,000 and 11,000 prisoners have been freed up until now… so where are the others?” The rebels believe they may be held in underground bunkers, which have since been abandoned.

    1. So it’s possible that the bodies…
      So it’s possible that the bodies were of people opposed to Qaddafi? Hmmm, I wondered why certain sites hadn’t covered the story. I admit, I read the Independent story wrong too; I thought the African civilians had been killed by the rebels alone. Not that this paints them in a better light of course..

      1. Confused reports from Tripoli
        Jenny, I’m not sure what you mean by reading the story wrong. The rebels appear to have killed (by early reports) Libyan civilians or (by later accounts, e.g. The Independent) African mercenaries at an encampment outside Qaddafi’s compound. Qaddafi’s forces are accused of killing captives (military and civilian, presumably) at various locations around the city.

  4. Tripoli atrocity update #4
    NTC officials say they believe they have found the remains of victims of a 1996 massacre of more than 1,200 prisoners by the Qaddafi regime. NTC troops were apparently led to the site outside Abu Salim prison by guards at the facility who had been captured. Excavation has yet to begin, although several bone fragments and pieces of clothing have already been found in the top soil. (McClatchy Newspapers, Sept. 25)

  5. Tripoli atrocity update #5
    From Amnesty International, Oct. 13:

    New Libya “Stained” by Detainee Abuse
    The new authorities in Libya must stamp out arbitrary detention and widespread abuse of detainees, Amnesty International said today in a new briefing paper.

    In Detention Abuses Staining the New Libya [PDF] the organization reveals a pattern of beatings and ill-treatment of captured al-Gaddafi soldiers, suspected loyalists and alleged mercenaries in western Libya. In some cases there is clear evidence of torture in order to extract confessions or as a punishment.

    “There is a real risk that without firm and immediate action, some patterns of the past might be repeated. Arbitrary arrest and torture were a hallmark of Colonel al-Gaddafi’s rule,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    “We understand that the transitional authorities are facing many challenges, but if they do not make a clear break with the past now, they will effectively be sending out a message that treating detainees like this is to be tolerated in the new Libya.”

    Since late August, armed militia have arrested and detained as many as 2,500 people in Tripoli and al-Zawiya.

    The organization said detainees were almost always held without legal orders and mostly without the involvement of the General Prosecution. They were held by local councils, local military council or armed brigades – far from the oversight of the Ministry of Justice.

    Approximately 300 prisoners were interviewed by Amnesty International in August and September. None had been shown any kind of arrest warrant and many were effectively abducted from their homes by unidentified captors carrying out raids of suspected al-Gaddafi fighters or loyalists.

    At least two guards—in separate detention facilities—admitted to Amnesty International that they beat detainees in order to extract “confessions” more quickly.