The Libya Commission of Inquiry has enormous amounts of work. The list of human rights violations committed during the six-month conflict – which has yet to end – is long, and the abuses involved intense.
As the forces of Muammar Gaddafi retreated from Tripoli in the third week of August, they unleashed terror on the city’s inhabitants, and in particular on those whom they were holding in detention. Government forces executed scores of detainees in custody, as a merciless parting shot before Gaddafi forces fled. Bodies were littered across the capital. Ordinary citizens, suspected of supporting the rebels, were killed on the streets and at checkpoints.
In other parts of western Libya, bodies continue to emerge, many of them showing signs of having been executed in custody, or in the case of 19 men, dying from suffocation while held in shipping containers on an extremely hot day. Released prisoners are talking about the torture they endured.
The full spectrum of government abuses during the conflict will take time to document. And we have yet to discover what has happened in the towns of Bani Walid, Sebha and Sirte.
On the other side, as forces of the National Transitional Council, or NTC, assumed control of western Libya, local security committees engaged in widescale arbitrary arrests of dark-skinned people, mostly sub-Saharan migrant workers but also black Libyans from the south. These arrests continue today. Many of these people are accused without evidence of having fought as mercenaries for Gaddafi, although mercenaries from some countries did come to fight. The NTC should provide prompt judicial review to any for whom there is evidence of criminal activity and release all other detainees. The NTC and those who support it need to prioritize setting up a justice system capable of providing such review of detainees as quickly as possible.
The urgency of setting up a judicial system applies equally to other detainees, both common criminals and those arrested on suspicion of having worked for or supported the Gaddafi government. Arrests of Gaddafi-era officials continue, and the NTC must provide concrete evidence of criminal activity on which to base charges or release these people. All those charged with crimes deserve due process rights that meet international standards.
The NTC must also work urgently to bring the various militias and local security forces under a unified civilian command. Arrests should be made only by authorities with the legal power to do so, based on concrete criminal charges backed by evidence
The Commission of Inquiry should pull no punches when it comes to documenting human rights violations by the rebel forces, and now the NTC as de facto authority over all but a few areas of Libya. The Libyan uprising was motivated by a desire to break from the abusive practices of Gaddafi’s rule. Now the NTC must show that it will put Libya on the path of human rights and the rule of law.