Why have we forgotten about Libya?
March 25th, 2013
07:04 AM ET

Why have we forgotten about Libya?

By Fred Abrahams, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Fred Abrahams is a special adviser at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.

All civilians deserve protection, but some civilians deserve more protection than others.  Or so it seems in Libya today.

Two years ago, the U.N. Security Council authorized a military operation by NATO with a mandate to protect civilians who were under attack by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. That operation led to Gadhafi’s fall.

Today, long after the fighting has stopped, those who are rightly or wrongly perceived to have supported Gadhafi are under threat. Thousands of women and children have been displaced from their homes and living in camps, often harassed. Men have been detained, tortured and killed. They need protection, but the nations that intervened two years ago have done virtually nothing on their behalf.

The most pressing case involves the former residents of the town of Tawergha, which had a pre-war population of about 42,000. Tawerghans formerly enjoyed Gadhafi’s financial and political support, and the town became a military staging ground during the 2011 war. Many fighting age men from Tawergha joined Gadhafi’s fight.

Some of these men allegedly committed atrocities during the war in the nearby city of Misrata, which suffered from a brutal, two month siege in which hundreds of civilians died.  Misratans say that Tawerghan fighters committed killings and rapes in their city and that now it is time to take revenge.

And revenge is what the anti-Gadhafi militias of Misrata have been taking, forcing all Tawerghans from their town. Spread across Libya, Tawerghans have been hunted down, detained, tortured and killed. Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch corroborates what we saw on the ground: the systematic destruction of the town’s residential, commercial and industrial structures after the fighting had stopped in an apparent attempt to prevent returns.

The Misratans demand justice for the crimes committed against them, and this is their due. But justice is not served by punishing an entire community for crimes committed by some of its members – that is collective punishment.

But while the U.N. Security Council and its powerful members jumped to protect Libyan civilians when Gadhafi was the enemy, they have not taken serious action against the revenge attacks that Tawerghans and other displaced communities in Libya are suffering from today – about 60,000 people in all, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

In its resolution on Libya this month, the Security Council rightly expressed concern about reprisals, torture and executions, but failed to mention the plight of Tawerghans. Even the U.N. mission in Libya, watching developments up close, has not made the abuses against Tawerghans and other allegedly “pro-Gadhafi” communities a central theme.

International legal obligations suggest that they should. The violations against Tawerghans are widespread, systematic and sufficiently organized to be crimes against humanity.  The U.N.’s commission of inquiry on Libya made this point a year ago.

The Libyan government has a responsibility to protect its people from such serious crimes, and to hold perpetrators accountable. The Security Council has a responsibility to help Libya achieve these goals. At a minimum, the latter should ask Libya to report regularly on the steps it is taking to protect displaced people and facilitate returns. The imposition of U.N. sanctions on responsible individuals would also have immediate effect.

The International Criminal Court can also investigate these crimes because its mandate in Libya is ongoing. Militia commanders and senior officials in Misrata could be held criminally responsible for ordering these crimes, failing to prevent them or failing to punish the attackers.

The Libyan government says it does not condone these crimes and would like to see them stop. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has spoken forcefully about abuses by the many militias in Libya whose actions he does not control. But that does not absolve him of the responsibility to do more on behalf of the Libyan citizens who are suffering the wrath of victorious rebels.  And it does not relieve the Security Council of its responsibility to demand protection for civilians at all times, when it’s politically convenient and when it’s not.

The failure to ensure protection from some of the worst crimes undermines the credibility of governments that said they intervened in Libya to protect civilians. Instead, governments supporting Libya’s transition should pressure Libya, while providing appropriate assistance, to ensure that displaced people can safely return to their homes and share in the benefits that the Libyan popular uprising and international military intervention were supposed to bring about.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Libya

soundoff (101 Responses)
  1. sinci

    By the way CNN, your rebel FSA friends are killing Christians and Muslims in Syria and bombing churches and mosques. Also your Libyan rebel friends recently killed a Coptic Christian and imprisoned some others. The rebels have been recording their crimes in Libya and Syria for a long time. Since you rarely send out reporters anymore to talk to the locals you could use YouTube as a source to REALLY learn about your friends instead of blindly cheering them on, but maybe it isn't blindness. The killing of Gaddafi wasn't the only killing and brutalization your friends recorded with their phones. How about hunting down videos of the lynching of blacks in Benghazi back in early 2011? These videos are still up.

    March 28, 2013 at 2:46 am |
  2. rbc5352

    what happened to today's broadcast? rerun instead?

    March 31, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  3. dan

    It is going real bad over there and our president has forbid the media from reporting anything that might mar the image that he has been working on since he was a militant at Harvard.

    April 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  4. dan

    The campaign for Hillary has already begun and as poorly as she handled Libya or anything other than her world tour while she was Sec of State needs to be swept away before she begins to actively campaign for president. We will never which night club her and her lesbian staff were dancing at that night and that seems to be fine with the media today.

    April 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  5. johnnyvistar

    North Korea's failure in its rubber sabre ratttling could result in a change in it's regime's leadership. If KJU is unable to get the results that the generals expected of him. Which is urgent foodaid – and stopping the US led sanctions against NK – including the freedom of overseas travel by families of NK generals, and senior military officers.

    April 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  6. mopjvt

    The reason we forgot about Libya is because we stopped them from creating a gold backed currency that would undermine the fiat currency we have been forcing upon nations around the world. Now they are at the mercy of the IMF and World Bank. So as long as they are in debt to us its no longer an issue.

    April 2, 2013 at 6:35 am |
  7. Tahir

    Who remembered Libya?

    April 2, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  8. KnowMoreThanOneLaunage

    Youtube "general wesley clark 7 countries"
    for Israel, google "article 1484 or article 1486"
    This was all plan out by the United States and Israel three years before the so call "Arab spring". These countries are intently being left in chaos for the benefit of Israel. Israel can't get any stronger so the destroy other nations.

    Take not, I wrote "Israel, not Jews". There are plenty of good people who are Jews but Israel, the country, needs to go.

    April 2, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  9. Marty

    Hillary said it best "Who Cares"!

    April 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  10. Tahir

    Libya was remembered due to Qaddafi, there is no Qaddafi so why to remember Libya.

    April 6, 2013 at 9:14 am |
  11. YaValioCacaWates

    The mad dog of Libya Qaddafi has got nothing on the new king of the mad dogs. Being little Kim Jong Un and his insane asylum regime in N Korea. There's no shortage of infidels.

    April 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  12. hypatia


    April 30, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  13. Bob

    But yet CNN has nothing about the Libyian Embassy attack and deaths which is still a hot issue in Congress! Seems like CNN reports what the current administration wants them to print.

    May 1, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  14. michaeljflick

    Mr.Abrahams You seem to be informing us of the horrors in Libya after the intervention, Yet your cohort Mr. Roth also at HRW seems to be calling for war against Syria for another terror bombing campaign to put even more terrorists in charge of countries.

    Make up your mind, or help convince Mr. Roth he is wrong.

    September 21, 2013 at 5:47 am |
  15. Erika Mewes


    January 11, 2021 at 2:26 am |
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