First Published: 2012-07-11


The Fate of Twaragha People in New Libya


Out of the 30 thousand souls that used to live and work in Tawargha, few remain. Today the town is empty except from burnt up homes, destroyed farm lands, and vandalized infrastructure, writes Mustafa Fetouri.


Middle East Online

At last, the international rights group Amnesty International, published its detailed report on the misery of Tawargha and its people. For readers who do not know Tawargha is a coastal town in western Libya neighboring Misrata. Until the final months of the Libyan uprising, it was home to some 30 thousand black Libyans. Already called “mercenaries” by the rebels and mainstream media black Libyans and migrant African workers were tracked down and killed or tortured wherever the rebels could find them. Accused of fighting for the regime Tawarghas were natural target as soon as the regime fell.

The grim picture painted by the report is one of human misery comparable only to the atrocities of the dark ages!

Besides pointing the finger at the rebels, the rights group implicates the interim government in torture and unlawful detention when it says that “ torture takes place in detention facilities overseen by the Misrata Military Council and Security Committee.” The Security Committee referred to here is a local branch of the Supreme Security Committee at the national level set up and supposedly controlled by the government!

Visiting one of Misrata’s illegal detentions centers last January Amnesty International reported that “ an Amnesty International delegate saw a member of a militia kicking and threatening an elderly Tawargha man in a Misrata detention centre. The man was crying and cowering against the wall. The assailant told Amnesty international that “those from Tawargha will not be released or we’ll kill them.”

This is a direct quote from the rights group’s June 2012 report on the kind of attitude Misrata’s rebels have towards their eastern neighbors, Tawarghas, the report reads “The Misrata thuwwar have vowed that the people of Tawargha will never be allowed to return. Organized into scores of militias, they have raided the town again and again to destroy homes and infrastructure, and have blocked access to the town. They have even erased the town’s name on road signs. Tawargha is being wiped off the map.”

Earlier in the conflict, rebels accused people of Tawargha of all sorts of abuse against civilians in Misrata including systematic rape and other sexual abuses. Unable to prove any such claims to the international community including the UN’s human rights body, rebels are forcing Tawarghas in detention to “confess to such crimes". In March 2012, the UN’s International commission of Inquiry on Libya reported that it had not found evidence of a widespread or a systematic attack, or any overall policy of sexual violence by al-Gathafi forces against a civilian population.”

Out of the 30 thousand souls that used to live and work in Tawargha, few remain. Today the town is empty except from burnt up homes, destroyed farm lands, and vandalized infrastructure. Tawargahs are being hunted like animals whereever they could be found in Libya. Indeed the report only confirms what is already known. I have seen many mobile phone video footages all over the Internet in which Twaraghas are taking refuge in camps as far away as Benghazi and are being abused, insolated and even shot dead in cold blood.

Amnesty International spoke to a young Twaragh women whose 12 year old sister named Hanin was shot dead last February in Tripoli while Misrata militias were firing indiscriminately at some Twaragaha people protesting the attack on their families sheltering in disused naval base west of Tripoli. Later that day the bodies of a 15 year old boy and 13 year old girl were found shot dead few kilometers away from the makeshift refugees’ camp.

In another part the report, another woman named Hoda Mohammed describes what happened to her family. She says “My 20-year-old brother Nassereddine was shot and fell. I ran to help him and as I reached him I was shot in the left thigh and fell down. My sister Hammala rushed over to help us and she was herself shot in the back and is now in a serious condition.” Hoda and her family were living in the same camp where the other three children were murdered.

As for the use of torture and other abuses Amnesty International confirms that “Torture is widespread and routine. Amnesty International knows of several Tawarghas who have been tortured to death”

Racist attitudes and other discrimination abuses are common among many of Misrata people and appears to be accepted as a normal behavior. The report talks about how the words “black” and “mercenary” are used interchangeably which “exacerbated pre-existing racism and xenophobia, exposing black Libyans and Sub-Saharan Africans to violent attacks”. During the conflict it was widely rumored and sometimes believed that the regime was using thousands of black African mercenaries to crush the revolt. Almost a year later, not a single case has been proved.

Of course the suffering of Tawaraghas is not the only stark example of the widespread violations being committed on daily basis in the new Libya. Almost nothing gets reported nowadays since Libya is no longer headline news.

Compared to what the former regime has done, Gathafi would come out as a human rights champion. It’s affront to the human race in the 21st century, which makes the crimes claimed by the former regime insignificant compared with what is currently going on.

One wonders if the International Criminal Court, ICC, heard anything about any of the thousands of abuses, murders, and rapes committed by the same people who revolted to create a new democratic Libya. Did prosecutor Mr. Ocampo read Amnesty International’s latest report?

It is worth concluding by the fact that ICC’s own staff was being held in Zintan, western Libya, by a militia outside any government control.

Mustafa Fetouri is an independent Libyan academic and journalist. He won the EU’s Samir Kassir award for the best opinion article in 2010.


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