– For most Libyans, news of Muammar Gaddafi’s death and the fall of Sirte marks the end of a long and brutal nightmare. But for some, the triumph of the National Transitional Council (NTC) and its revolutionary fighters is a cause for grave concern. In the past eight months, the NTC and its allies have failed to protect the most vulnerable in Libya, including sub-Saharan migrants and minority Libyans – many of whom have been arbitrarily targeted and detained by rebel forces and forced to flee their homes. So as the conflict comes to an end, Refugees International calls on Libya’s new leaders to enforce a ban on score-settling and revenge attacks against vulnerable groups, protect them from gangs and rogue elements, and provide assistance and long-term solutions for all who have been forced to flee the fighting.
“With Gaddafi gone the eyes of the world are on Libya’s new leadership,” said RI Advocate Matt Pennington. “And having finally achieved its revolution, the NTC must now deliver on its promises of freedom and dignity for all.”
In his visit to Libya this month, Mr. Pennington found that black Libyans (such as the Tawerghans), sub-Saharan African migrants, and other minorities are routinely and arbitrarily targeted by revolutionary fighters and armed Libyans for allegedly supporting the Gaddafi regime. Many of the NTC’s supporters still see black Libyans and migrants as allies of Gaddafi – their perceptions skewed by reports of Tawerghan fighters’ involvement in the siege on Misrata, and sub-Saharan mercenaries brought in to quell the initial uprising. Libyans forced to flee Gaddafi-allied towns have also been abused, harassed, and detained by rebel forces. Even those who did not support the Colonel fear how they will be treated by their new rulers.
So far, the NTC has done virtually nothing to stop these abuses. With a new wave of rebel triumphalism threatening to make the situation worse, the NTC must prevent commanders from abusing unarmed civilians; any found doing so must be arrested and brought to trial.
Two weeks ago, on the outskirts of Sirte, Mr. Pennington met with families fleeing the fighting in this final Gaddafi stronghold. “They were caught in the crossfire,” Pennington said. “They described critical food, water, medical, fuel, and power shortages, and several of them told me that their homes had been destroyed by rockets fired from both sides. A group of sub-Saharan Africans I spoke with fled Sirte by foot, walking 17 kilometers before approaching a rebel checkpoint where they were harassed and accused by fighters of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries.”
“If we stay here,” the migrants told RI, “people will not leave us in peace because we are black and we are from Sirte. We are scared; we just want to go home."
In addition to the physical dangers faced by these vulnerable Libyans, the NTC and the UN must respond to the humanitarian crisis facing the residents of Sirte and other recently “liberated” cities throughout the country. The rebels’ final push resulted in the destruction of property on a massive scale, and the displaced will be unable to return for their homes for some time. RI therefore urges the NTC and the UN to provide immediate assistance and commit to long-term solutions for those who have fled their homes in the last eight months.
As for the US government, Mr. Pennington said: “The Obama administration must demonstrate the same commitment to protecting civilians in Libya today that it did in the face of Gaddafi’s onslaught in March. It must leverage its political leadership in the region and help ensure Libya becomes the ‘inclusive, tolerant, and democratic’ society President Obama called for today.”
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org.
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