[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [group website] published a letter [text] Sunday intended for militia leaders in the Libyan town of Misrata, warning of possible criminal charges for orders which amount to “crimes against humanity.” The group claims that, following the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, approximately 3,000 people from the nearby town of Tawergha continue to be indiscriminately incarcerated in detention facilities in Misrata where they are subject to “torture and physical maltreatment.” Tawergha was a pro-Gaddafi stronghold, and the residents of the town have allegedly been subject to abuse at the hands of militias who blame the Tawerghans for abuses against rebel forces during the uprising last year. Following the publication of the letter, HRW issued a corresponding statement [text] wherein the group’s Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, claimed:
Our letter to Misrata authorities is a wake-up call. Five months after the conflict with Gaddafi forces ended, militias from Misrata are still committing serious abuses—crimes under Libyan and international law—and the city’s leaders can be held legally responsible for those acts by the [International Criminal Court].
The letter from HRW comes less than a week after the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) denied an ICC demand to hand over Saif al-Islam Gaddafi [JURIST report] to face trial at The Hague.
Allegations of war crimes and human rights violations have been widespread during the Libya conflict [JURIST backgrounder]. In February Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report accused the ruling NTC of allowing the abuse and torture [JURIST report] of supporters of the former leader by unofficial militias. In January the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] addressed [JURIST report] the UN Security Council [official website] expressing concern over alleged human rights violations in Libya. Earlier that month Middle East rights groups alleged human rights violations [JURIST report] and that all parties involved, including NATO, committed acts ranging from use of excessive force against protesters to cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners during detention. In October of last year AI alleged that Libyan forces arrested nearly 2,500 people who face ongoing torture and detainment [JURIST report] without formal charges. In September the NTC vowed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses after AI published a report [JURIST report] alleging that both sides of the Libya conflict are responsible for human rights abuses and warning the NTC to act quickly to investigate these allegations.