Friday, September 23, 2011
Black Workers and Mercenaries in Libya
FEATURE-Race hatred clouds Libya's democratic ambitions
By Joseph Logan
TRIPOLI, Sept 23
(Reuters) - For the rebels who toppled Muammar Gaddafi, the new Libyan era has ushered in unbounded political freedom and deep personal joy. For Dijmon, a 25-year-old Nigerian labourer in the newly captured capital, it brought fear.
The rebels' elation at victory has in some places turned into rage at people like Dijmon, whose dark skins identified them with Gaddafi's foreign soldiers of fortune even if they had nothing to do with the former leader.
"There was shooting all around the car wash where I worked," he recalled of the day he fled his home in Tripoli. "Then the boys from the neighborhood came and attacked me with hammers."
The treatment of African migrants and dark-skinned Libyans is an early test of the new rulers' vows to build a democratic state, which their European and U.S. backers feel would justify their intervention against Gaddafi on humanitarian grounds.
Race and skin colour were already dividing lines for Libyans, and as in other north African Arab states, many people have a dismissive attitude toward black Africans.
But the atrocities attributed to black mercenaries during the uprising against Gaddafi, as well as the allegiance some regions populated by dark-skinned Libyans showed him in the war, have given the race question a new and deadly currency.
Rebels who swept Tripoli rounded up hundreds of Africans as Gaddafi fell, pointing to identity papers from African states found on dark-skinned corpses in Gaddafi strongholds as evidence that the population of African workers and migrants included many hired soldiers and Gaddafi loyalists.
The arrests, fuelled in part by accounts of a black mercenary role in suppressing an abortive Tripoli uprising in February, filled the city's jails, schools and sports facilities with detainees and sent thousands of Africans into hiding.
Those who fled recount a campaign of violence against them which leaves them little hope of a future in Libya.
"We are still in danger," said Dijmon, one of approximately 600 Africans squatting at a fishing port in Tripoli's suburbs, where they hang blankets from rickety boats to shield themselves from the sun and cook over open fires amid the acrid stink of urine.
Residents of the camp, whose entrance is controlled by a unit from the surrounding Janzour district, receive drinking water supplied by aid groups. But they say they faced armed robbery and assaults, including rape, when they arrived at the port, and fear further attacks.
"People are dangerous," said a Liberian who identified himself as Michael. "If children see us they hold their noses, and revolutionaries sometimes shoot by us. Blacks are Gaddafi, they say. We need to leave."
Some of those at the port worked in Janzour, its walls -- like those all over the city -- festooned with spray-painted caricatures of Gaddafi, once the self-styled "King of Kings" among African leaders he cultivated as clients.
In these derogatory portraits, Gaddafi is depicted as African himself, his lips often exaggeratedly large and the spelling of his name tweaked to incorporate the Arabic word for monkey.
African workers remain, though their numbers are diminished from before the war, when foreign workers of various nationalities -- including Egyptians and eastern Europeans -- accounted for up to a quarter of Libya's population of just over six million.
At a grill restaurant in the district, where a sub-Saharan African washed dishes, the proprietor offered his explanation of the plight of those at port.
"It's not good to be black. And if nobody knows them, they can get in trouble."
"OUR BROTHERS FROM AFRICA"
The treatment of Africans, and the status of those detained by rebel fighters, was raised by the European Union days after the leaders of France and Britain -- the most vocal European champions of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) -- pledged further support and received promises of favourable treatment in future business dealings with Libya.
After the EU issued a statement expressing concern over the stigmatization of blacks as mercenaries, the NTC this week told the U.N. Human Rights Council: "We do not make any distinction among people on grounds of colour. And we do not discriminate against our brothers from African countries."
Acting justice minister, Mohammed al-Alagi, added: "The Gaddafi regime declared war on the Libyan people, and used foreign mercenaries ... But when captured they will still have the right to an appropriate trial before an ordinary judge and according to international law."
But Libya's ability to provide impartial justice is an open question, according to international rights groups.
New York-based Human Rights Watch, while noting evidence of the recruitment of African mercenaries, called it "a dangerous time to be dark-skinned in Tripoli" and urged the NTC to swiftly establish a judicial process for detainees.
A member of the NTC's security committee for Tripoli, Osama Abu Ras, told Reuters the NTC was beginning to grapple with judicial oversight of detentions.
But those steps are lagging even as various armed units continued to arrest people, with little sign of central oversight, said Samira Bouslama, a member of an Amnesty International team that has investigated attacks on and detention of Africans suspected of being mercenaries.
As many as half of the approximately 2,000 suspects held in Tripoli's formal detention centres that the group had seen were either from countries such as Mali, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan, or dark-skinned Libyans, she estimated. Few had the chance to see a judge or security committee official, and accounts of torture or other abuses in detention were common.
"Some had signed statements to the effect that they were involved in killings, and most of those said they had signed just to stop what was happening to them," Bouslama said.
THE NEW GOVERNMENT
The NTC, which Amnesty said had welcomed its call to bring prisons and jails under control of civilian authorities, has publicly eschewed revenge against Gaddafi fighters after the bloodletting of the capital's fall, which included summary executions, and stated its determination to bring all arms under central authority.
The militiamen -- "thuwwar" or revolutionaries, banded in groups named for their towns or neighbourhoods -- seem at times to have acknowledged that not all dark-skinned foreigners are mercenaries.
Mohammed, a 21-year-old Somali who entered Libya weeks before the battle for Tripoli in hopes of crossing to Europe, recounts his capture and eventual release by gunmen in the capital's Tajoura district.
He was traveling with a group of 58 people, including a Somali woman with her child and three orphaned nephews and nieces.
Speaking at the site of a Muslim charity that has taken in 109 Somalis fearing for their safety, Mohammed said the group came via Sudan and was taken into custody as they waited for their smuggler.
"They put us in prison at the Petrol Institute; we stayed for 14 days and then they gave us to the charity," he said.
Ahmad Adel Ali, another Somali handed over by local militiamen, said they were mistaken for mercenaries: "They fired at us."
The question of migrants seeking to reach Europe via Libya, which Gaddafi used as leverage in dealings with the region, is already central to the new leadership's diplomatic relations.
Gaddafi's 2008 treaty with Italy -- which included an indirect apology for abuses of Italy's period of colonial rule in Libya as well as a pledge to pay it $5 billion -- contained provisions to fight illegal migration, including deportation of would-be migrants.
Libya's new leaders in June agreed a deal with Italy that mirrors the pledges in the treaty, which Italy suspended in February. Gaddafi had said Europe would be swamped with migrants without his cooperation
U.S. continues Bush policy of opposing ICC prosecutions
(updated below w/correction)
It has been widely documented that many of the worst atrocities on behalf of Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi have been committed by foreign mercenaries from countries such as Algeria, Ethiopia and Tunisia. Despite that, the U.N. Security Council's sanctions Resolution aimed at Libya, which was just enacted last week, includes a strange clause that specifically forbids international war crimes prosecutions against mercenaries from nations which are not signatories to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which protects many of the mercenaries Gadaffi is using.
Section 6 of the Resolution states that the Security Council:
Decides that nationals, current or former officials or personnelfrom a State outside the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya established or authorized by the Council, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the State;
Why would a clause be inserted to expressly protect war crimes-committing mercenaries on Gadaffi's payroll from international prosecutions? Because, as The Telegraph's John Swaine reports, the Obama administration insisted on its inclusion -- as an absolutely non-negotiable demand -- due to a fear that its exclusion might render Bush officials (or, ultimately, even Obama officials) subject to war crimes prosecutions at the ICC on the same theory that would be used to hold Libya's mercenaries accountable:
[T]he US insisted that the UN resolution was worded so that no one from an outside country that is not a member of the ICC could be prosecuted for their actions in Libya.
This means that mercenaries from countries such as Algeria, Ethiopia and Tunisia -- which have all been named by rebel Libyan diplomats to the UN as being among the countries involved -- would escape prosecution even if they were captured, because their nations are not members of the court.
The move was seen as an attempt to prevent a precedent that could see Americans prosecuted by the ICC for alleged crimes in other conflicts. While the US was once among the signatories to the court, George W. Bush withdrew from it in 2002 and declared that it did not have power over Washington. . . . It was inserted despite Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, saying that all those "who slaughter civilians" would "be held personally accountable".
Speaking to reporters outside the council chamber, Gerard Araud, the French UN ambassador, described the paragraph as "a red line for the United States", meaning American diplomats had been ordered by their bosses in Washington to secure it. "It was a deal-breaker, and that's the reason we accepted this text to have the unanimity of the council," said Mr Araud.
This report notes that Araud blamed the Obama administration's demand on "parliamentary constraints" -- implying that Obama officials believed inclusion of this provision was the only way to induce Congress to approve and implement it. There's no evidence that this is the case, but whatever the motives, here we have yet another episode where the U.S. exempts itself from standards it purports to impose on the rest of the world: in this case going so far as to allow murderous mercenaries to go unpunished all in service of this administration's overarching, compulsive goal of ensuring that America's own accused war criminals are never held accountable or even required to have their actions subjected to legal scrutiny. This is the sort of gross, credibility-destroying hypocrisy that escapes notice by America's media but not by anyone else's.
* * * * *
Two related points:
(1) Here is the crux of America's foreign policy unintentionally captured by two consecutive tweets.
(2) I've written many times before about the case of Sami al-Haj, the Al Jazeera cameraman abducted in late 2001, encaged at Guantanamo for six years without ever being charged, and tortured, all while being questioned almost exclusively about Al Jazeera's operations, not about Al Qaeda. As I've noted, his case was an enormous story in the Muslim world -- entailing, as it did, the U.S.'s due-process-free imprisonment and abuse of a journalist -- but received almost no attention in the U.S. media (Nicholas Kristof was a noble exception, writing several times about the case and demanding his release).
A newly released WikiLeaks cable documents the hero's welcome and massive media storm triggered in the Muslim world by al-Haj's eventual release from Guantanamo in 2007. By contrast, very, very few Americans have any idea who al-Haj is or even know generally that the U.S. imprisoned numerous journalists -- including him -- for years without due process (though they certainly know that Iran and North Korea did that). The vast disparities in perception between non-U.S. Muslim and Americans are often noted, though it's usually attributed in the American media to the way in which They are propagandized. Often times, the cause is exactly the opposite: it's propaganda, to be sure, but not Them who are being subjected to it.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Looking over the language of the U.N. Resolution again, I think it's quite possible that The Telegraph -- and therefore me -- got a big part of this story wrong. There's language in Paragraph 6 defining the scope of the immunity that is easy to overlook because of the strange way it's drafted -- "arising out of or related tooperations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya established or authorized by the Council" -- that seems to limit the immunity only to those participating in "operations authorized by" the U.N. Security Council: meaning anyone involved in a U.N. peacekeeping mission (or U.N.-authorized military action) in Libya. That would seem to exclude Libya's mercenaries from the immunity clause (in an update, Kevin Jon Heller comes to a similar realization).
This is clearly a case where the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration's insistence that the U.S. (as a non-signatory to the Rome Statute) should be exempt from all ICC prosecutions, but it does not seem -- as The Telegraph and then I indicated -- that the cost of this position here is immunity for Libya's mercenaries. [The headline and sub-header have been changed to reflect this error; they originally read: "U.S. shields foreign mercenaries in Libya to protect Bush officials - A U.N. resolution bars war crimes prosecutions for Libya's foreign fighters because Obama officials demanded it"].