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Libyan rebels tarnished by human rights report

An Amnesty International report released today said Libyan rebels 'committed abuses' amounting to 'war crimes,' raising fresh concerns about post-conflict justice in Libya.

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Amnesty likewise noted that pro-Qaddafi forces, especially during the fight for the besieged town of Misurata, “launched artillery, mortar and rocket attacks against residential areas” and “used inherently indiscriminate weapons such as anti-personnel mines and cluster bombs.”

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Qaddafi forces also engaged in an “extensive campaign of enforced disappearances” of perceived opponents, abducting thousands from their homes, mosques and streets, reported Amnesty. During the conflict, “some of the disappeared appeared in broadcasts ‘confessing’ to carrying out activities against Libya’s best interests or belonging to Al Qaeda.”

Forced confessions

Among the confessions broadcast on Libyan state TV was that of Abdelhamid Shgheib, who was captured during the Misurata fighting in mid-June. Today he recalls his ordeal while standing in Abu Salim prison, showing the scars on his wrists where the handcuffs once were.

He says he was severely beaten, then threatened, and told to “confess” on television. “They forced us what to say,” recalls Mr. Shgheib. “All the crimes which they did, they wanted us to say that we did this to our own people.”

They were coached for two days on what to say, says Shgheib. “Before we began recording, they put so much make-up on us to hide the signs of beating. They wanted us to look like a Libyan woman, made up for a wedding.”

They had to state that they had even raped their own families, says Shgheib. “And they wanted me to say ‘Muammar before God’ – this sentence disturbed us more than the beating.”

Shgheib was not alone, and such confessions provided a staple on Libya’s state TV during the conflict. Today some are posted on YouTube, including one uploaded in May, in which Naser Abdul Salem, who was captured in Misurata, stated that rebel forces “made me rape girls and kill them and [mutilate] them and throw them where Qaddafi soldiers were staying,” in order to implicate government troops.

Few Libyans bought such propaganda, though there are many such examples. For Amnesty, such forced “confessions” are just part of the crimes committed by both sides – though with far more magnitude by pro-Qaddafi forces – during Libya’s revolution.

“Those responsible for the dreadful repression of the past under Col. Al-Qaddafi will need to be held accountable,” said Mr. Cordone of Amnesty. “The [revolutionaries] must be judged according to the same standards. Without this, justice would not be done and a vicious cycle of abuses and reprisals risks being perpetuated.”

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