The de facto authorities in Tripoli, the National Transitional Council (NTC), should stop the arbitrary arrests and abuse of African migrant workers and black Libyans assumed to be mercenaries, Human Rights Watch said. They should release those detained as mercenaries solely due to their dark skin color, Human Rights Watch said, and provide prompt judicial review to any for whom there is evidence of criminal activity.
Both the NTC and those who are supporting it need to prioritize setting up a justice system capable of providing such review of detainees as quickly as possible.
The NTC should also implement its stated commitment to human rights by ensuring the security of tens of thousands of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa, who face harassment and violence from both armed rebel fighters and Libyan citizens who accuse them of having fought as mercenaries for Gaddafi, Human Rights Watch said.
“It’s a dangerous time to be dark-skinned in Tripoli,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The NTC should stop arresting African migrants and black Libyans unless it has concrete evidence of criminal activity. It should also take immediate steps to protect them from violence and abuse.”
Mass Arrests, Fear of Mercenaries
Over the past week security forces newly operating in neighborhoods around the capital, staffed mostly by armed young men, have conducted mass arrests of migrant workers from other African countries such as Chad, Sudan, Niger, and Mali, holding them in makeshift detention facilities, including a school and a soccer club. Human Rights Watch visited two such facilities and one prison, where the majority of African detainees interviewed claimed to be migrant workers detained simply because of their nationality and that they were not pro-Gaddafi mercenaries. Prior to the uprising, between 1 and 2 million African migrant workers were in Libya.
Human Rights Watch has not found evidence of killings of Africans in Tripoli or systematic abuse of detainees, but the widespread arbitrary arrests and frequent abuse have created a grave sense of fear among the city’s African population, Human Rights Watch said.
The local authorities making these arrests say they will investigate the detainees’ claims and release them if officials determine they committed no crimes. Human Rights Watch called on the NTC to release immediately all those who were detained without evidence of unlawful activity. Human Rights Watch urged the NTC to ensure that those detained because of concrete evidence indicating they committed crimes receive as prompt a judicial review as possible.
In Tripoli Human Rights Watch has found evidence that the Gaddafi government recruited and used African mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and other countries. Human Rights Watch researchers located a large base used by hundreds of mercenaries from other African countries since February 2011, who were recruited and commanded by the 32nd Brigade of Khamis Gaddafi.
“The NTC has legitimate concerns about unlawful mercenaries and violent activity, but it can’t simply arrest dark-skinned men just in case they think they might be mercenaries,” said Whitson. “African migrants have worked in Libya for many years, often carrying out the most unpleasant jobs, and this is no way to treat those who stayed put during the uprising.”