No Democracy: the Revenge Killings of Libyan Rebels

Tawergha, Libya, was once home to thousands of mostly black non-Arab residents. Now, the only man-made sound is a generator that powers a small militia checkpoint, where rebels say the town is a “closed military area.”  What happened to the residents of Tawergha appears to be another sign that despite the rebel leadership’s pledges that it will exact no revenge on supporters of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s new rulers often are dealing harshly with the country’s black residents.

According to Tawergha residents, rebel soldiers from Misrata forced them from their homes on Aug. 15 when they took control of the town. The residents were then apparently driven out of a pair of refugee camps in Tripoli over this past weekend.  The Misrata people are still looking for black people,” said Hassan, a Tawergha resident who is now sheltering in a third camp in Janzour, six miles east of Tripoli. “One of the men who came to this camp told me my brother was killed yesterday by the revolutionaries.”  Amnesty International issued a report on human rights issues in Libya that included claims hat the rebels had abused prisoners, conducted revenge killings and removed pro-Gadhafi fighters from hospitals.  Dalia Eltahawy, an Amnesty researcher, said the Tawerghis “are certainly a very vulnerable group and need to be protected.” She called on the rebel leadership to “investigate and bring people to justice” for those abuses “to avoid a culture of impunity.”

But rebel leaders, in their response, made no mention of Tawergha, though they promised to “move quickly … to make sure similar abuses are avoided in areas of continued conflict such as Bani Walid and Sirte.”  There’s no doubt that until last month, Tawergha was used by Gadhafi forces as a base from which to fire artillery into Misrata, which lies about 25 miles north.  Misratans say, however, that Tawergha’s involvement on Gadhafi’s side went deeper: Many of the village’s residents openly participated in an offensive against Misrata that left more than 1,000 dead and as many missing, they say. “Look on YouTube and you will see hundreds of Tawerghi men saying, ‘We’re coming to get you, Misrata,’ ” said Ahmed Sawehli, a psychiatrist in Misrata. “They shot the videos themselves with their cellphones.”

The Tawerghis do not deny that some from the town fought for Gadhafi, but they say they are victims of a pre-existing racism that manifested itself during the revolution.  The evidence that the rebels’ pursuit of the Tawerghis did not end with the collapse of the Gadhafi regime is visible, both in the emptiness of this village and that of the camps to which the residents fled.  At one, in a Turkish-owned industrial complex in the Salah al Deen neighborhood of southern Tripoli, a man looting metal from the complex simply said that the Tawerghis had “gone to Niger,” the country that borders Libya on the south.

Empty town raises concerns about fate of black Libyas, The Sacramento Bee, Sep. 14, 2011

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