Human rights groups decry Libya brutal legacy
TUNIS - Kamel Houdeyfa el-Houni embodies the boldness of the incipient revolution against Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year Libyan dictatorship. As a leader of the February 17th, 2011, uprising in Benghazi, Houdeyfa hoped for justice even for Qaddafi and his henchmen.
“Your father and his clique have to surrender and enter the court of justice to face fair trial for their deeds,” Houdeyfa, a Libyan judge turned revolutionary, told Qaddafi’s son Seif al Islam. He infuriated the latter who wanted him to “stop the troublemaking” and hinted at personal rewards if he did so.
When Houdeyfa stood his ground and stressed that people power was sealing the regime’s end, Qaddafi’s son warned the Benghazi judge: “We can destroy you with air raids and crush you with all the sheer force we have. You are nothing to challenge us.”
The brutish mindset seems to be shared by many leaders of the militias and armed gangs that dominate Libya’s political landscape, dashing the hopes of people such as Houdeyfa who dreamed of a free and fair society and shared prosperity.
Months after Houdeyfa’s heated phone conversation with Seif in October 2011, revolutionaries dragged Qaddafi from a drainage pipe outside his hometown of Sirte, abusing and hitting him as they placed him on the bonnet of a pick-up truck. He died soon after.
Reports by human rights groups suggest that aspects of the ruthlessness of Qaddafi-era Libya have been embraced by those who ousted him, despite pledges to establish a democracy.
Western powers highlight the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya but most Libyans, although aware of the danger represented by ISIS, worry daily about getting home safely and about their houses being shelled by warring militias.
Petty crime and personal score-settling in the absence of state security mean that adults and children run risks every day of not reaching home.
Assessing the situation in Libya from the perspectives of ordinary Libyans, Houdeyfa said: “Libyans lowered their expectations. They initially hoped for democracy and economic prosperity, then a decent political government with security and peace. Now people are hoping for survival and worry for the future.”
According to human rights organisations, about 11,000 kidnapped and missing persons are unaccounted for in Libya. In Misrata, the number of abductions reached 850, according to Tarek Abdel-Hadi, coordinator of the Libyan Committee for Finding Kidnapped People.
Amnesty International said in a mid-February statement: “The scale of abuse is staggering. Forces on all sides have carried out hundreds of abductions, taken hostages, tortured, ill-treated and summarily killed detainees.”
“Over the past five years Libya has descended deeper into the abyss of human rights chaos, amid lawlessness, rampant abuse and war crimes by rival armed groups and militias,” it added.
Human Rights Watch said in a December report that 40,000 Libyans from Tawergha, Tomina and Al Kararim tribes were prevented from returning home after they were forcibly displaced as punishment. “Two-year-old child Mohamed Zied Boujeldine was killed alongside his sister and brother aged 8 and 12 while at home after their house was hit by mortar shells fired by Islamist militia Benghazi Shura Council,” said a statement from a local hospital in early February.
“Ain Zara’s municipality’s officials were abducted by an armed gang in Tripoli on February 10th,” a town hall statement said.
An ad posted online by a Libyan family, with the picture of a man in the background, reads: “Very important statement: The citizen Abu Alqasem Ibrahim Arriani was kidnapped from Tuggar’s mosque in Tripoli. Please help.”
Commenting on such grim announcements, Fatma Hajaja wrote on Facebook: “We ended the regime of an unjust ruler but those pitiless militias threw the whole Libya in a bottomless black hole of injustice.”
Amnesty International quoted Tripoli residents who accused Libya Dawn militias of seizing people based on tribal affiliation or presumed political allegiances.
Militias carried out extensive raids on civilian homes, looting and destroying property and setting homes and farms ablaze in the area of Warshefana.
“Detainees, including children, in all of the facilities visited provided credible and consistent accounts of ill-treatment, in some cases apparently visible to researchers, such as beatings on the soles of the feet with plastic pipe, electrical cable, chains, sticks,” said the New York-based human rights group.
Its report was based on prisoner meetings with its researchers.
Human rights activists say those detained by militias number up to 15,000, many of them Qaddafi loyalists. Some in the rival Libyan governments contend the number of detainees has come down in recent months. The consensus, however, is that too many remain arbitrarily detained in Libya’s extrajudicial jails.