New evidence collected by a human rights watchdog implicates Misrata-based militias in the execution of dozens of detainees following the capture and death of Muammar Qaddafi one year ago. Warning for strong images.
“The Libya uprising was at its core a peaceful revolution which was about people asking for their human rights. But they were faced with bullets and they started starting picking up weapons themselves,” says Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Libya took a major step towards democracy this year by holding its first free elections but success has been marred by rising extremism, failure to disband militias and delays in forming state institutions.
"Libya passed the first test of democracy by electing a national assembly after more than 42 years of totalitarianism," said Libyan analyst Nasser al-Daessy, referring to the General National Congress elected in July.
"But the political situation is still shaky in Libya and we must urgently reach a political consensus to rebuild the institutions of the state."
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The desire for vengeance resulted in heavily armed militias who the central leadership couldn’t control. Shortly after the capture and death of Qaddafi, HRW found more than 100 bodies in the direct vicinity of where the former dictator was killed. 53 of these were found at the Mahari Hotel with their hands tied together behind their backs. Amateur video footage from the day of Qaddafi’s capture shows images of male detainees captured by rebels believed to be aligned with “The Tiger Brigade”. The video clearly shows these men being brutalized and insulted by the rebels; the next day many of their bodies were found at the Mahari hotel.
“These were organized killings, these men were executed by militias which had a command structure so it is possible to investigate these crimes and it is possible to bring about accountability,” says Bouckaert.
HRW gathered evidence of the killings that was presented to representatives of the Libyan Justice Ministry and the office of the Attorney General. However, no investigators have been sent to Sirte to act on the reports.
“The greatest challenge in any post-conflict situation is to try to move from the rule of the gun to the rule of law and that is the challenge that the transitional authorities in Libya have in front of them. They have to try to bring all of these different militias under central control,” emphasizes HRW.
The human rights organization stresses the importance of bringing these men to justice and to hold them accountable for their actions.
“They fought a revolution for a better Libya, where people could live in security and free of the kind of fear that they lived under Qaddafi. It’s important that we hold them to their commitment,” concludes Bouckaert.