Sebha shines a light on Libya's darkness. But, the NTC better gets its strategy right before the dust settles, forewarns Gamal Nkrumah
April 12, 2012
Few will take issue with the international human rights organisations' decision to bring to account perpetrators of human rights violations in Libya against black Africans and Libyans of black African descent.
It has been a deceptively mild end to a winter of discontent in Libya. No bountiful showers of sorely needed funds for reconstruction, rehabilitation and development materialised. Libya's infrastructure is in shambles. In short, Libya is fast sliding into chaos.
Amnesty International released a 24-page report entitled "Detention Abuses Staining the New Libya". The report urged the authorities in Libya to halt arbitrary arrests and acknowledge their legal obligation to prevent extra-judicial executions and vicious attacks against black Libyans especially from the city of Tawergha, suspiciously viewed as a city of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi loyalists. The Amnesty International report was highly critical of the legal maze that encourages hate crimes and vengeful killings including the mass murder of innocent children of Gaddafi's supporters in Bani Walid, Sirte and Tawergha.
Racial undertones aside, non-Arab Libyans are going through an especially difficult time. The Amazigh, the original inhabitants of the country, or Berbers as they are sometimes referred to, were not particularly favoured under Gaddafi. He himself was ambiguous about their status, and it is true that in Libya many tribal groups are of mixed Arab and Amazigh stock. Moreover, there are certain tribal groups in the south of the country that are neither Arab nor Amazigh.
One such tribal group is the Tebu, or Toubou people. They were among the first African people to become Muslim soon after the Arab conquest of North Africa, but the proud desert people have remained largely immune to Arabisation campaigns, much like the Tuareg or Imuhagh as they prefer to call themselves of south and western Libya. The tribal clashes between Arab tribesmen and Toubou in the southern city of Sebha last week was an ominous signal of racial and tribal conflict typical of the post-Gaddafi Libya. The control of tribal militias has become of over-riding concern to a majority of the population in the country.
The ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) is equivocal on the subject. The ethnic rioting in Sebha and the southeastern Libyan oasis town of Al-Kufra, inhabited mainly by ethnic Toubou, was resolved peacefully. However, simmering racial tensions prevail and could explode again at any moment.
Hushed café talk about the restlessness of Libya's largest tribal conglomeration, the Warfellah representing two million people, a third of the country's population, is rife. The Warfellah also inhabit a large swathe of territory in central, eastern and western Libya that includes urban centres and, more importantly, key oil installations.
The NTC is a divided gaggle of disparate political and tribal groupings, many with Islamist leanings. A video released on YouTube graphically depicted black Libyans forced to eat Gaddafi's green flag, flogged, and hurled at with racial abuse.
Fighting also broke out at the border crossings of Ras Djedir and Dhiba on the Libyan-Tunisian frontier between rival militias. Libyan Prime Minister Abdel-Rahim Al-Keib chided his compatriots for insubordination, but Al-Keib's admonition fell on deaf ears.
Human rights groups have singled out the militias of Misrata and Zintan for retribution. "A key focus of our work has been conditions in detention facilities, of which there are at least seven in Misrata run by official government bodies and others by armed groups and militias," the Amnesty International report extrapolated.
The report deplored "physical maltreatment, in some cases leading to death. None of the 3,000 detainees in Misrata have had a proper judicial review and therefore appear to be arbitrarily detained."
Amnesty International urged the "provision of prompt judicial reviews". The past months have brought riots and ethnic and tribal clashes. And, above all there is palpable agitation among Libyans against unfulfilled promises and anticipated aspirations. Still, NTC rule looks assured for a while yet. "Human rights violations should be investigated," the report concluded.
How then does one explain the persistent grouchiness among Libyan militias? They waste energy inventing excuses for their excessive criminal activities.
On the economic front Libya is also probing oil contracts. Any such plan by the NTC must include measures that can have an immediate impact on the Libyan people. Widespread corruption leads to further agitation and popular unrest.
This makes sense. The Green Resistance of Gaddafi loyalists is gaining ground politically and is a force to be reckoned with. It is against this backdrop that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, requested that the Libyan authorities hand over Gaddafi's son Seif Al-Islam. The NTC has officially declined the ICC's request maintaining that the former heir apparent of Gaddafi will stand trial for rape, mass murder and other war crimes. Still, the ICC insists that Libya comply with its international obligations to enforce the ICC warrant arrest of Seif Al-Islam.
The ICC notes that UN Security Council obliges Libya to do so. Libyan Justice Minister Ali Ashour, however, bluntly rejected the ICC order adding that Seif Al-Islam is treated reasonably well. "He eats with the people who guard him and he is in a good physical condition," Ashour assured reporters in Tripoli. Seif Al-Islam is under the custody of the Zintan militia that arrested him as he was supposedly trying to flee the country and seek refuge in neighbouring Niger.
"Libya must act on the ICC's decision and surrender Seif Al-Islam without further delay. An unfair trial before a Libyan court where the accused could face the death penalty is no way to guarantee justice," Amnesty International expounded.
The 22 March coup in neighbouring Mali was prompted by ethnic Tuareg militias, namely the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) that was funded largely by Gaddafi. After the Malian authorities foil their bid at statehood, a distinct likelihood, it is highly probable that the disgruntled Tuareg elements will escape to Libya to seek refuge with their kith and kin there.
The Tuareg, like other ethnic groups have their own tribal militias, and will if targeted trounce their persecutors. In apparent reprisal for the Tuareg's siding with Gaddafi during the civil war, the NTC has largely excluded them from the decision-making process in post-Gaddafi Libya. Meanwhile the world looks on impotently.