HRW urges Libya rebel forces to protect civilians, admit to abuses

HRW urges Libya rebel forces to protect civilians, admit to abuses

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday urged [press release] opposition forces in Libya to protect civilians in controlled areas and hold accountable those rebel forces responsible for abusing civilians as well as looting and arson. Rebel fighters have reportedly committed abuses against civilians and civilian property in captured towns over the past month, including damaging property, burning homes, looting from hospitals, homes and shops, and beating supporters of the government. Rebel military forces have admitted to the attacks, but it is unclear whether many of the perpetrators have been punished for their conduct. Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at HRW, Joe Stork, said rebel leaders are not fulfilling their obligations and expressed concern that the violence will continue:

The rebel authorities have a duty to protect civilians and their property, especially hospitals, and discipline anyone responsible for looting or other abuse. Opposition forces have an obligation to protect civilians and their property in the areas they control so people feel they can return home safely and rebuild their lives. Opposition forces say they are committed to human rights, but the looting, arson, and abuse of civilians in captured towns are worrying. This raises concerns about how civilians will be treated if rebels capture other towns where the government has support.

Col. El-Moktar Firnana, a commander of the rebel military, indicated that most of the stolen property belonged to Libya’s military government under the direction of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], and that he and other rebel officers had issued directives not to attack civilians or civilian property. HRW alleges, however, that some of the rebel attacks were indiscriminate. HRW has also reported that the Libyan government has committed indiscriminate attacks on civilians and has illegally occupied areas in the country.

Both the rebel forces and government authorities have been chastised for mistreating civilians. In June, HRW expressed concern [JURIST report] over the arrests of dozens of civilians by Libyan opposition authorities, and called on the National Transitional Council (NTC), the opposition ruling body in Libya with de facto control over eastern Libya, to provide civilian detainees with full due process rights, access to counsel and the ability to challenge their detention before independent judicial authorities. On the other side of the conflict, a three-person commission for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] appointed to investigate violence in Libya published a report Wednesday finding that Gaddafi’s forces have committed crimes against humanity [JURIST report] and war crimes under orders from Gaddafi and other high-ranking officials. The commission’s 92-page report said Libyan authorities have committed crimes against humanity such as acts constituting murder, imprisonment, and other severe deprivations of physical liberties, torture, forced disappearances, and rape “as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population with knowledge of the attack.” Also last month, International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official websites] urged [JURIST report] personal aides of Gaddafi to implement the arrest warrants [JURIST report] issued against the leader and several government officials.

For more, see JURIST’s Feature on the Libya Conflict.