Libya is finally set to begin collecting evidence of crimescommitted by militias from the town of Misrata and people from Tawergha during the 2011 uprising to oust Muammar Gaddafi. This may be a first, hopeful step towards justice – but much needs to be done to ensure this difficult task is conducted fairly and thoroughly.
The Ministry of Justice announced on July 31, 2013, that a fact finding commission would begin its work, more than a year after the commission was established by a decree form the National Transitional Council.
Revolutionaries and civilians from Misrata have accused residents of neighboring Tawergha of siding with Gaddafi and his forces during the “17 February Revolution”. They have accused Tawerghans of committing serious crimes in Misrata, including unlawful killings, torture, and rapes, especially during the first months of the revolution, as Gaddafi forces besieged Misrata.
In August 2011, armed groups mostly from Misrata launched an onslaught on Tawergha, emptying the town, and subsequently looting and destroying its houses and rendering it inhabitable. Today, 35,000 Tawerghans were forced to leave their homes and now live in makeshift camps and private housing in Tripoli, Benghazi, and the South. Militias from Misrata have threatened Tawerghans with violence if they attempt to return. The Continued forced displacement of thousands of people amounts to a crime against humanity. Another 1,300 are missing or detained, mostly in Militia-run facilities in Misrata. Hundreds are dead.
The commission now has the daunting task of investigating these crimes and deciding which cases should be referred to the judiciary for prosecution and which people should receive compensation for their losses.
Despite the delay in launching investigations, this may be a step in the right direction. Authorities now need to show they are committed to justice by ensuring the commission is thorough, neutral, and independent. Much is at stake, and victims, from both sides, need to see a radical shift in the government’s attitude toward achieving justice.