Libya: Displaced People Barred from Homes
Human Rights Watch
February 21, 2012
(Tripoli) - Authorities in and around Misrata are preventing thousands of people from returning to the villages of Tomina and Kararim and have failed to stop local militias from looting and burning homes there, Human Rights Watch said today.
The abuse mirrors the treatment of roughly 30,000 displaced people from the nearby town of Tawergha, who have also been blocked from returning home for at least five months, Human Rights Watch said.
Officials in Misrata have sought to justify the violations to Human Rights Watch, contending that people from Tomina, Kararim, and Tawergha fought with Gaddafi forces and committed atrocities against Misratans during the 2011 conflict. (…)
(…) The transitional Libyan government and its international supporters should press the Misrata authorities and militias to cease their abusive conduct against displaced people, Human Rights Watch said. Commanders and members of the militias responsible for crimes, including preventing people from returning home, should be investigated and prosecuted.
The National Transitional Council and transitional government have been unable to assert control over the hundreds of militias operating in Libya, Human Rights Watch said. But in Misrata local military authorities, including the military council, appear to have influence over many of the city’s 250 militias. The Misrata Military Council apparently operates checkpoints, including one 80 kilometers south of the city. (…)
Allowing communities to return to their homes should not be linked to the prosecution of individuals who may be implicated in wrongdoing, Human Rights Watch said. Action is needed now to ensure that displaced people can return before their homes are occupied or destroyed and their displacement becomes permanent. Preventing the return of an entire community amounts to unlawful and arbitrary collective punishment, Human Rights Watch said. (…)
(…) “Deportation” or the “forcible transfer of population” can be a crime against humanity by virtue of Article 7(d) of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court. It is defined as the “forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law.” Preventing a displaced population from returning could be a “coercive act” leading to forced displacement. This is a crime against humanity if committed on a widespread or in a systematic manner, as part of a deliberate policy by an organized group such as the military councils.
Under the law of armed conflict, the evacuation of a population during an armed conflict is permitted under limited circumstances, but the evacuated people must be permitted to return once the conflict has ceased. Ordering the displacement of a civilian population,the wanton destruction of civilian property, and the collective punishment of civilian populations can amount to war crimes.
Libya’s transitional government, as well as the Misrata authorities and local military commanders, are under an international obligation to prevent and investigate such crimes, and to facilitate the post-conflict return of civilian populations to their homes, Human Rights Watch said. Military and civilian officials with command responsibility, who fail to stop these ongoing crimes, could find themselves investigated and prosecuted domestically or by the International Criminal Court.
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