Archive for February 2013
One of the many problems the Libyan government is grappling with today is the illegal detention of people accused of being Gaddafi’s mercenaries during the recent civil war. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch, stated on 5th February 2013; ‘The [Libyan] government acknowledges that about 8,000 people are being detained across Libya, but only about 5,600 of these are in facilities controlled to some degree by the military or the Interior and Justice ministries.’
According to Libya’s Law 38 of 2nd May 2012 the Interior and Defence Ministries were required to refer all supporters of the former regime currently detained by militia, if there is sufficient evidence against them, to the judicial authorities by 12th July 2012. However, some authorities, including Lawyers for Justice in Libya, believe that Law 38 gives impunity for actions performed in the name of the revolution, stating as it does that there shall be no penalty for ‘military, security, or civil actions dictated by the February 17 Revolution that were performed by revolutionaries with the goal of promoting or protecting the revolution.’ It may be that militiamen accused in future of detaining and torturing suspects without due process of law will be able to escape sanction because of this ambiguity.
The deadline was far from being met when, on 14th July, Sarah Lea Whitson, the Middle Eastern and North African director of Human Rights Watch stated; ‘Across Libya, thousands of detainees still languish in prisons, without formal charge and without prospect of legal review. Despite months of cajoling the militias the transitional authorities missed the deadline and failed to gain control over approximately 5,000 people still held arbitrarily by armed groups, some subject to severe torture,’
Most detainees are Gaddafi security force members, former government officials, suspected foreign mercenaries or migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. There is growing evidence that militias are equating blacks with mercenaries. The Human Rights Watch has often warned about the maltreatment and torture of detainees held in militia detention centres. Many countries, with Chad at the top of the list, have denounced the treatment of their migrants in post Gaddafi Libya and it is clear that regional and diplomatic tensions will be heightened if the appeals are not heeded by the Libya government.
The Libya Herald reported on 5th February 2013 that some positive news came from the Libyan Minister of Justice, Salah Marghani, in a written note in which he states; “The Ministry has embarked on a policy that includes taking the necessary measures to end all violations and bring detention places under actual and full control of the judicial police.” The minister also made it clear that detention centres outside the control of the ministry of Justice would be criminalised.
It appears that the al-Roame facility for more than 2,000 prisoners in Misurata, which is to be under the aegis of the judicial police, will take control of all detainees in the city by mid May 2013 and this ‘model’ would be replicated elsewhere. To help, 24 prosecutors are being transferred from Eastern Libya to Misurata and thousands of new recruits to the police are being trained to control ‘judicial facilities’. Not before time it would seem and it is hoped that matters have improved since January 2012 when Médecins Sans Frontières stopped its work in detention centres in Misurata because its medical staff were being asked to patch up detainees midway through torture sessions so they could go back for more abuse.
The militias appear to be using the prisoners to revenge themselves against those who fought for Muammar Gaddafi and also as bargaining chips in the struggle for local and national power in Libya. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that some racial prejudice is involved which may have its roots in the slave trade, still active in some parts of Libya in the early part of the 20th century.
The case of Tawergha illustrates the point. In August of 2011, Misuratan militias broke out of the brutal siege of their city by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and attacked their neighbours in Tawergha on whom the late dictator had once lavished money and favour. Accused of crimes against Misuratan civilians during the siege, all 35,000 or so residents of Tawergha fled and their town was systematically looted and destroyed by vengeful Misuratans. (Gadaffi’s forces had laagered in Tawergha whilst conducting the siege of Misurata and some of the young men of the town joined them in the fighting. Accusations of rape have been levied at them, though not yet substantiated.)
Tawergha, a town 38 kilometres or so south of Misurata, and now deserted by its inhabitants, was mostly populated with black Libyans, a legacy of its 19th-century origins as a transit town in the trans-Saharan slave trade. Now, on the gates of many their deserted and vandalized homes Misuratans have scrawled the words “slaves” and “negroes.”
Temporary sites for displaced Tawerghans have grown up and still remain in Libya. The UNHCR reports that some 20,000 of them have been registered in sites in Tripoli, Benghazi, Tarhouna and other smaller towns across the country. Another 7,000 or so were discovered in the south, near the town of Sebha. There must be some who remain unaccounted for – either staying with relatives or friends or hiding in the desert, afraid to emerge.
The UN Human Rights Council on Libya has complained that Tawerghans have been killed, arrested arbitrarily and tortured across the country. ,
CHAD. ‘Will Chad, a sometime client state of Muammar Gaddafi, find itself once again a target for al Qaeda?’ Update 3rd March 2013
Chad is one of a group of so called Sahel countries which include Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania having their northern Islamic provinces in the arid southern ‘shore’ of the Sahara. Their Christian and animist provinces lie in the richer, sub tropical regions. This split ethnicity and religiosity was manageable in French colonial times but is less so nowadays when the rise of militant Islamism threatens stability. Nigeria shares a similar problem stemming from the British colonial period.
In 2004 elements of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) entered Chad but were beaten off by Chadian forces. This group is now known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and was ejected by French forces in January 2013 from Gao and Timbuktu in Mali. Where will AQIM go next?
The English Cuckoo lays its egg in the nest of another species of bird which then proceeds to hatch the egg and raise the chick. Al Qaeda seeks out failed states and settles on them like cuckoos, imposing strict sharia law and creating terror and misery. Waziristan, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, Northern Nigeria and Mali are hosting substantial numbers of these ferocious extremists. Small but active al Qaeda franchises exist in the Philippines and Indonesia. There are those who argue that al Qaeda may have established a franchise in Benghazi and Derna in Eastern Libya.
As the French and the British direct their attention to the possible knock on effect of the crisis in Mali this post asks the question ‘will Chad, a sometime client state of Muammar Gaddafi, find itself once again a target for al Qaeda?’
The factors which attract al Qaeda seem to be a weak or remote central government, a weak national army, a weak and corrupt police force, intertribal strife, a safe haven in remote and rough terrain, access to criminal enterprises such as smuggling and capturing foreigners for ransom, poverty, neglect and native Salafist sympathisers.
The fall of a military dictatorship followed by political instability offers it a perfect nest in which to lay its parasitical egg. Will the Chadian president, Idriss Déby, survive in power now that Gaddafi has gone must now be a crucial question. The Tebesti Mountains of northern Chad and Sothern Libya may be particularly tempting for hardcore al Qaeda fighters seeking remote badlands in which to hide and thrive.
In 1960 Chad gained independence from France after sixty years of colonial rule. It is a vast, landlocked and ethnically diverse country in which the French failed to promote a sense of national unity. That is no surprise because there are a number of national cultures and religious affiliations, some of which have their roots in pre-colonial days. It follows that since independence Chad has suffered from deep religious and ethnic divisions. The struggle for power amongst the elites resulted in periods of armed rebellion and destructive civil war in which the meddlesome role of Gaddafi was notable.
In Chad there is the constant danger that the divide between the Arabised ‘Islamic’ north and the ‘Christian’ south will result in polarisation between the two, this inhibiting the formation of a democratic government and the sharing of resources. The government of Chad, which is formed from members of the northern and eastern Islamic groups, is becoming more Islamist in orientation. Chad, thus far, is a secular state, but the strengthening of Islam in public life and the friction between the faiths will threaten long term stability.
In Chad the use of armed force has been the means of establishing power. The current president, Idriss Déby, came to power by force of arms in 1990 and has since held on with the support of the national army which numbers around thirty thousand men. There is also Déby’s elite Republican Guard which is under his personal control and numbers around 5,500 personal. President Déby’s greatest external ally, France, maintains a military base there also. This last may be a lone guarantee of stability for Déby as things stand in the Sahel today.
AL Qaeda will have noted that the Tebesti region, bordering on Libya, is still an insecure area made the more unsafe by the large number of land mines laid by the Libyans when they occupied the Aozou Strip from 1973 to 1994. Chad has a unique position as it bridges sub Saharan and North Africa and also east and west Sahel. It also has long boarders with Sudan’s unstable and remote Darfur province and in the south with the troubled Central African Republic. Another hostage to fortune for Chad lurks in the north where its border with Libya lies somewhere within the Aozou Strip the ownership of which the two countries disputed violently between 1973 and 1994.
Muammar Gaddafi reigned in Libya for more that forty years during which he meddled too often in the affairs of his southern neighbour Chad. Gaddafi and President Idriss Déby of Chad were particularly close, a relationship with inevitable consequences for the future of the two countries. France has been Idriss Déby’s main source of external support during his twenty years reign but Libya was ally number two, financially and politically.
Libya has enough to do to establish a democratic government and recover from its recent civil war. The northern regions of Chad, previously totally dependent on trade with Libya, will take time to re-establish relations with a neighbour troubled by intertribal strife and lack of border control. Relations with Libya are made the more difficult because a large number of Chadians accused of being Gaddafi’s mercenaries remain incarcerated in jails maintained by Libya militias. There are persistent rumours that they are being tortured.
The instability which followed Gaddafi’s summary execution in his home town of Sirte on 29th October 2011 has affected the nations of the Sahel and catalysed the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali followed by the disastrous rise of an al Qaeda franchise. This undesirable outcome threatened the stability of not only Mali but also neighbouring Niger, the source of yellow cake uranium which supplies French nuclear power stations. If the domino effect is valid Chad, France’s other ex-colonial ally in the Sahel, was in line for an al Qaeda takeover bid. France was, therefore, forced to intervene when the al Qaeda become overconfident and threatened the Mali government in Bamako.
The mobility of the al Qaeda leadership can be in no doubt. The bad lands of the deep Sahara have long been traversed by the Tuareg and the Tebu, people for whom the artificial borders resulting from old colonial acquisitions have little meaning. They are able to traverse great arid regions which they know as well London Taxi drivers their own perplexing city. They share this talent with a number of Bedouin tribes who have traded across the Sahara from time immemorial. Thus it is possible for the al Qaeda franchises and the smuggling and the criminal bands to vanish into inhospitable and inaccessible country only reappear elsewhere to cause trouble. Rebellion and criminality is thus likely to pop up at any place in this vast arena to destabilise fragile economies and make refugees of hordes of people.
The French may dread the possibility of a successful coup against the Déby regime precipitated by the fall of Gaddafi and the instability in the Sahel region. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb must anticipate the possibility with increasing confidence.
Update 2nd March 2013
Al Qaeda leader probably killed by Chadian forces
Update 3rd March 2013
More on the possible killing of an al Qaeda leader by Chadian forces: