by Lizzie Phelan
While NATO’s mandate enjoins it to protect civilians, the Alliance allows the forces of the Libyan National Transition Council to continue their abuses. After hunting down black Africans, the summary executions now extend to members of the Qadhadhfa tribe, that of the fallen Leader. Hundreds of thousands of African workers have already fled the country to escape death; the time has now come for certain Libyans to take the road to exile if they want to survive.
Critics of NATO’s intervention in Libya have launched some of their harshest indictments against the international media, and particularly Doha based station Al Jazeera, which positioned itself as the greatest champion of the so-called Arab Spring. The resignation of Al Jazeera director general Wadah Kanfar following the release of Wikileaks cables which expose his links to the CIA is sure to give such critics a sense of vindication. With the channel being seen as the “voice” of the movement against Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, it also raises questions about the potential for Mr Kanfar and the channel’s vested interests in NATO’s intervention which brought that movement to power.
A number of news reports that were broken by the channel to make the case for the intervention have over the past six months been strongly contested by human rights organisations.
One of the most potent of these was the unfounded claim that “African mercenaries” were working for Muammar Gaddafi. Despite organisations like Amnesty International highlighting the lack of evidence for the claim evidence that it has led to the systematic persecution of black Libyans and other black Africans by the rebels have streamed out of the country for the past six months.
Shortly before the fall of Tripoli, the town of Tawergha had been completely eradicated of all its mainly black population by rebels in nearby Misrata, who had marked their signature on the walls to the town: “the brigade for purging slaves, black skin”. Just a few days before the rebels advanced into Tripoli, a friend who worked in a refugee called me to report that 1,000 people from Tawergha had shown up at the site in the early hours of the morning.
That camp is now reported to have also been eradicated and people who give refuge in their home to Tawerghans are also targeted. Yesterday rebels from Zintan raided one such home in Tripoli because it was also providing a roof for eight families from Tawergha.
“There were about 40 with mostly AKs with bullets in the chamber ready to fire at unarmed people,” a young man who lives in the home said. “They took all the adult males from Tawergha, and my father and brother and left only two old guys and took whatever they had left of money. They came from all sides of our land pointing their guns in our faces, scaring the women out of their minds, at one point this guy was waving a gun at little children from Tawergha. Our only crime was to offer a roof for these harassed people.”
There has been a rush by black people to leave the country, but last Saturday, one of the organisations responsible for evacuating thousands of migrant workers from other African countries, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has had to stop the process. IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe told Reuters: “The NTC says they have to make sure of the migrants, to register them and to identify who is a real migrant and who is not.”
Upon his visit to Tripoli last week, David Cameron basked in the praise of NTC leaders, Mustafa Abdel Jalil and Mahmoud Jabril, for Britain’s leading role in their “revolution” and he was keen to stress the success he had witnessed, with hospitals working and people in the streets. Cameron and other leaders of the NATO states have made no mention of the targeting of black people that is part of the wider witch hunts against anyone who is remotely associated with supporting the former government.
Just before the fall of the capital, empty accommodation on construction sites that had come to a halt and hotels provided refuge for thousands that had fled areas that the rebels had already succeeded in securing with vital support from NATO. Since the takeover, they along with thousands of others from Tripoli have found themselves back in the same predicament and have been forced into hiding if they do not have the money or means to flee. With every day that passes, others are found dead or imprisoned and I am frequently reminded of a conversation as I waited in the harbour to leave the city, when a fellow passenger remarked to an armed guard that all of the prisons must be empty now that the rebels had released all their inmates. The guard smiled: “We have filled them all up again.”
People who appear in public criticising the new government are under particular threat, in this report by Russia Today one man says “if I appear in front of the camera, they will send a bullet to my head…do you remember Ehab, the black guy? He was arrested a few days ago after appearing on TV”. When they do appear in news broadcasts their faces and names are always hidden.
The witch hunt extends to non-Libyans who come from countries which were friendly to the former regime. As we boarded the fishing boat that was to evacuate us to Malta, an armed guard initially said that two Telesur journalists, one Cuban and Ecuadorian, would not be allowed to board because “South America is friends with Gaddafi.” All eastern Europeans also face being barred from fleeing, and in this video Ukrainians and Russians who had been working in the country report being beaten and tortured by the rebels.
People who belong to Libya’s largest tribe, Wafalla, based in Beni Walid are amongst the prime targets. The tribe has refused to surrender their city to the NTC and one young Wafalla man said: “They know which tribe we are from just by looking at our face, I have to move every day to a different place. We can’t even go to the hospital to find people we think are dead or hurt because they will take us. There is no safe place.”
A female friend of mine and university lecturer who had gained her doctorate at the London School of Economics (see picture), Salma, committed the crime of coming from the same tribe as Gaddafi, the Qadhafadhfa. She was shot dead as she fled for the airport along with her mother and two nieces, Yam aged 20 months and Aden, who was just three-weeks old.
The weeks since the takeover of Tripoli have been dominated by reports of a “final push” by the rebels into Beni Walid, Sirte and Sabha. But resistance continues to rage forcing the rebels to turn away from Beni Walid and the people of these areas have been given their ultimatum, surrender or face a bloodbath. .
In the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, and with Palestine never far from the thoughts of people on the Arab street, Al Jazeera has played a key role in convincing them that this “revolution” which the NTC have admitted would not have been possible without NATO’s intervention, has been welcomed by ordinary Libyans.
But there was in reality no investigation prior to the start of the bombing campaign into the population’s support for the rebels or a NATO intervention. And six months of NATO bombing to force the surrender of area after area, the NTC still unable to move its headquarters to Tripoli and ongoing witch hunts to root out any potential resistance to the new status quo, indicates it’s a lot lower then the United Nations was led to believe.