Under al-Gaddafi we suffered and now we are suffering again

By Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Libya researcher

It’s 12 months since I was in Libya visiting hospitals where people injured in the war to oust Mu’ammar al-Gadafi were being treated.

Many were civilians hurt during indiscriminate shelling of residential areas by forces loyal to the ex-Libyan leader in their desperate but doomed attempt to cling to power.

I am now back in Tripoli, months after the “Declaration of Liberation”, which officially signalled the end of hostilities after al-Gaddafi’s capture and killing on 20 October 2011.

But here I am again visiting hospitals talking to men, women and children shot or injured in mortar attacks.

Six-year-old Moussa Bakr Ibrahim was playing with relatives when his home in the southern city of Kufra was hit 23 April 2012.

He sustained shrapnel injuries to his left arm and leg. Moussa had lost his father on 11 February 2012, during an earlier shelling of the Tabu neighbourhood of Qudrufai.

Many black Libyan Tabus told me that they welcomed the “17 February Revolution”, hoping it would put an end to the discrimination they suffered under al-Gaddafi’s rule when they were denied identity documents, faced forced evictions, and were at risk of arbitrary detention if they dared to complain.

But even now, Libyan Tabus continue to feel marginalized, and complain of neglect by the Libyan national authorities.

During recent armed clashes between militias in Kufra, Tabu residential neighbourhoods were shelled by Arab militias leading to deaths and injuries among the population.

Seventy-year-old Jum’a Senoussi Abdallah received severe shrapnel injuries to his stomach on 20 April and is now being treated at the Tripoli Medical Centre.

“I had just finished my prayers, when I heard an explosion… that’s all I remember… Now I am here, and in a lot of pain… I don’t know why they are shelling us. We are just peaceful residents trying to go about our daily activities.”

At the same hospital, nine-year-old Amina is recovering from two operations to her stomach, barely able to speak. Her sister told me:

“Amina, another younger sister, and my mum were at home in Qudrufai when the shelling started… In a panic, they ran out of the house looking for shelter and Amina was shot in the back; the bullet ripped through her stomach. Who would do this to a child?”

“ Our situation is very difficult in Kufra even now that the shelling is over, but we are too afraid to leave our neighbourhoods… Schools are closed, there is no work…Under al-Gaddafi we suffered, and now we are suffering again…We can’t live normally when every now and then our neighbourhoods are shelled.”

Her frustration was shared by Abdelrahman Sharaf Eddin, whose 18-year-old brother was killed when their home in Qurdufai was shelled in April. Abdelrahman was himself injured in the arm, and is determined to seek justice for his brother’s death.

He lamented that during al-Gaddafi’s time, the Tabu community faced discrimination. Now, he says, their situation is further exacerbated by lawlessness and the widespread availability of weapons.

On the next bed, Idriss Jumaa Mohamed is awaiting an operation on his right leg, broken during the shelling of his home in Qudrufai.

Idriss’ father, Jumaa Mohamed, was killed in February, when clashes between Tabu and Arab militias left about 100 people dead before reconciliation efforts and the involvement of the Libyan National Army temporarily put a halt to the violence.

“Our whole family of seven was at home, when we heard explosions at a distance. The explosions started getting louder, and then the glass of our windows shattered. I counted about five explosions until my father was wounded. I ran to help him and tried to drag him out of the house, when another explosion hit, injuring me in the leg… We came to Tripoli for treatment, but my father didn’t make it.”

The National Transitional Council (NTC) is struggling to rein in the hundreds of militias who commit serious abuses in a climate of total impunity.

Until now, there has been no investigation into the violence in Kufra and no measures have been taken to prosecute those responsible for the reckless use of fire in residential areas.

Instead, the NTC passed legislation in early May granting immunity from prosecution for members of armed militias if they acted to “protect the Revolution”.

This law prevents victims from obtaining justice and redress, and contradicts the objectives of the “17 February Revolution” to put an end to four decades of repressive practices and injustice.