(Beirut) – An assassination spree between September 18 and 20, 2014, left at least 14 people dead in some of the bloodiest days this year in the eastern city of Benghazi. The dead included two young activists, members of the security forces, an outspoken cleric, and five other civilians.
The latest killings raise the total number of seemingly politically motivated assassinations to at least 250 in Benghazi and nearby Derna in 2014 alone. No one has claimed responsibility and there have been no known arrests for the killings. Libyan authorities have failed to conduct investigations, or prosecute those responsible for any of the unlawful killings since 2011, fostering a culture of impunity that has fueled further abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
“The militias and individual killers are killing people on all sides with complete impunity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Those responsible for the latest killings in eastern Libya should be aware that the ICC prosecutor has a mandate to investigate grave abuses like these in Libya.”
The victims of the barrage of assassinations that have gone unclaimed and unpunished since 2012 include journalists, activists, judges, prosecutors, and members of the security forces. The killings on September 19, 2014, which activists are calling Benghazi’s “Black Friday,” included Benghazi residents with divergent political views, ranging from former members of Gaddafi’s security forces to the two activists, Tawfik Bensaud and Sami Elkawafi, ages 18 and 19.
Killings of civilians are war crimes if committed by parties to the armed conflict in Benghazi. Murder on a systematic or widespread scale as a state policy or by an organized group is a crime against humanity.
An international commission of inquiry or a similar mechanism should investigate serious violations of the laws of war and international human rights law by all sides in Libya, Human Rights Watch said. The inquiry should be mandated to establish the facts, and identify those responsible for serious violations with a view to ensuring that they are held accountable. The inquiry should collect and conserve information related to abuses for future use by judicial institutions.
In a July 25 statement, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor warned that her office “will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute those who commit crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction in Libya irrespective of their official status or affiliation.” The ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in Libya since February 15, 2011, under UN Security Council Resolution 1970.
The ICC prosecutor opened investigations in 2011 against senior figures of the former Muammar Gaddafi government. But no investigations have been conducted since, despite the increasingly serious violations in Libya including forced displacement, arbitrary detentions, torture, and attacks against civilians that may amount to crimes under the court’s jurisdiction and that the Libyan authorities have been unwilling or unable to investigate.
In addition to the seven former and active members of the security forces, the young activists, and the prominent cleric, the victims included five civilians. Another young man, Abdulrahman al-Mogherbi, was abducted during funeral services for the cleric, Sheikh Nabil Sati, and later found dead.
Unknown assailants also attempted but failed to murder four more people: a female officer, a religious clerk, a political commentator, and a security officer on September 19, 2014, in Benghazi.
Human Rights Watch spoke with a relative of Tawfik Bensaud, 18, one of the young activists in Benghazi, who said that unidentified armed assailants had ambushed Bensaud and Sami Elkawafi, 19, as they drove home together with a friend at about 11 p.m. on September 19. The assailants closed in with three cars, opened fire on the car with Bensaud, Elkafawi, and their friend, and immediately fled. Bensaud and Elkawafi each had multiple gunshot wounds. Their friend had minor injuries.
Bensaud was a blogger, a leading rights activist in Benghazi, and a radio show host and occasional guest on other news shows. He and Elkawafi had organized and participated in numerous demonstrations and campaigns against militia violence and extremism, and to promote the rule of law, and campaigned to urge people to vote in elections. Both activists had called public attention to the plight of thousands of displaced people from the town of Tawergha living in makeshift camps in Benghazi and elsewhere who had been forcibly displaced from their town by militias that accused them of being Gaddafi supporters. Bensaud and Elkawafi belonged to several nongovernmental groups.
Libya’s eastern region has been volatile, with an armed conflict raging in Benghazi and Derna, its major cities. In May, Khalifa Hifter, a former general, began a military operation in eastern Libya, purportedly to “eradicate terrorism.” His Libya Dignity Alliance is fighting an Islamist alliance including Ansar al-Sharia and the Islamic Shura Youth Council in Derna.
Armed assailants have been targeting former members of Gaddafi’s security forces since the end of the 2011 revolution. Recently victims have also included activists and others who voiced support for various sides of the conflict. In the east, victims included supporters and opponents of Hiftar’s campaign as well as those supporting or opposing the Muslim Brotherhood and armed Islamist factions such as Ansar al-Sharia. Sheikh Nabil Sati, a prominent Benghazi cleric, was a vocal opponent to Hiftar’s Dignity campaign.
Among the others assassinated in Benghazi this year by unidentified gunmen were Miftah Bouzeid, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Burniq, on May 26, and the prominent activist Salwa Bughaighis on June 25. The prominent political activist Abdulsalam Elmessmary was gunned down on July 26, 2013, in Benghazi.
All parties to armed conflicts in Libya are required to abide by the laws of war. Certain serious violations of the laws of war, when committed with criminal intent, are war crimes. Those who commit, order, assist, or have command responsibility for war crimes are subject to prosecution by domestic courts or the ICC.
On August 27, 2014, the UN Security Council passed resolution 2174 broadening existing international sanctions on Libya to include people who engage in or support acts that “threaten the peace, stability or security of Libya, or obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its political transition.” Such acts include “planning, directing, or committing, acts that violate applicable international human rights law or international humanitarian law, or acts that constitute human rights abuses.”
In its resolution 2174, the Security Council also recalled its 2011 decision to refer the situation in Libya to the ICC and reaffirmed the importance of holding accountable the people responsible for serious crimes, including those involved in attacks targeting civilians.
In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council established a commission of inquiry on Libya with a mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya and to make recommendations. That Commission was established on February 25, 2011 and issued two reports. Its mandate expired in March 2012.
The international community, particularly countries that participated in the Security Council-sanctioned NATO air campaign against Libya, which led to the victory of anti-Gaddafi fighters, failed to support Libya in rebuilding institutions and imposing rule of law.
“The assassination of two young Libyan activists is one more nail in the coffin of Libya’s revolution, which indeed is now killing its own,” Whitson said. “The international community that played such a pivotal role in abetting the revolution is failing in its duty to save it."
Names of those reported killed on:
Thursday, September 18, 2014:
- Ahmed Habib Abuazayza al-Mismari, former chief of the Libyan Air Force, killed in Benghazi
- Sheikh Nabil Sati, head of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Advocacy, Ministry of Religious Endowment, killed in Benghazi
Friday, September 19, 2014:
- Tawfiq al-Agori, military intelligence officer, killed in al-Thamma, Benghazi
- Col. Fathi el-Misallati, killed in al-Gwarsha, Benghazi
- Col. Fathi Abdul-Salam, killed in al-Kish, Benghazi
- Air Force Col. Mohamed al-Meshiti, killed in Benghazi
- Security Officer Hussam al-Orfi, killed in al-Kwifia, Benghazi
- Tawfik Bensaud, killed in al-Kish, Benghazi
- Sami Elkawafi, killed in al-Kish, Benghazi
- Hussein al-Obeidi, killed in Benghazi
- Ahmed al-Hassuni, killed in Benghazi
- Khalifa Gassil, killed in Benghazi
Saturday, September 20, 2014:
- Abdulrahman al-Mogherbi, 20, found dead in Benghazi two days after he was abducted by unknown perpetrators
- Hussein Fadhel, Criminal Investigation Department officer, killed in Hai al-Salam area in Benghazi