An interview with Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's chief investigator for the Middle East and Africa, who has just spent three months in Libya, in the French newspaper Liberation on June 22nd 2011. See also Patrick Cockburn's report on Amnesty's and other human rights groups' investigations of Western claims about Libya at:
Q: There have been serious war crimes by forces loyal to Kadhafi, we know less about what has happened in zones controlled by the opposition...
DR: At the beginning of the uprising, foreign nationals and soldiers were killed. There are specific cases, not actions on a grand scale. But these grew from a strong feeling of racism and xenophobia in the population against people of color who were said to be African even though they could well have been from the south of Libya. Now, nothing has been done by the authorities to investigate or bring to justice the perpetrators of these acts. The people of the Transition National Council (TNC) are against what happened, but do they have the political will to do something and confront the rebels they depend on for their security? The TNC must state its opposition to these actions more strongly.
Q: Were some of them in the pay of Kadhafi?
DR: That myth persists. People still think that killings were committed by mercenaries. Now, there are only 9 or 10 foreigners in the prisons. But the consequence of such a myth is that we have a situation where Libyan citizens have attacked Africans in the street based only on the color of their skin. There have also been captured soldiers who have been beaten and tortured. Once they get to detention centers, these practices stop. But we have not seen any efforts to stop these attacks. In fact, members of the regime's security services have been taken from their homes and we've found them with their hands and feet tied together and a bullet in the head with signs that read,"Kadhafi's dogs". Altogether, there have been dozens of cases of soldiers murdered.
Q: Can the international community do anything?
DR: The countries that support the TNC must do so in a critical and constructive way so that these practices don't spread. There's no reason for the judicial system to be paralyzed (in the East). There are detainees who have been in prison for several months who haven't seen an attorney. It's not very easy since it's the rule of armed men. To come back to the myth of African mercenaries, as soon as the economy recovers, the immigrants are going to come back and, since they were already treated very badly, their situation is going to be even more difficult. It's not a problem to ignore.
Q: On Kadhafi's side, we hear about mass rapes committed by his army?
DR: We haven't found any rape cases, which doesn't mean there haven't been any, but that poses problems all the same. Not only have we not met any victims, but we haven't met anyone who has met any victims. As for boxes of Viagra that Kadhafi was supposed to have distributed, we found them untouched next to tanks that were completely burned out. It's true that the Kadhafi regime has committed serious crimes, notably in Misrata, where the civilian population has suffered extremely from bombardments. Without doubt, there were war crimes in March when loyalist forces combed whole districts and systematically took away all the men, whose families still have no news of them... But the crimes committed by Kadhafi don't excuse those committed, even on a smaller scale, by the other side. These crimes are unjustifiable. Everyone must be held accountable.