Libya’s NTC must protect evidence at Abu Salim mass grave site
A mass grave uncovered near Libya’s Abu Salim Prison that could be linked to the 1996 mass killing of prisoners should be secured immediately to protect evidence and ensure accurate identification of the bodies, Amnesty International said today. Libya’s National Transitional Council said yesterday that the mass grave had been discovered, and that it would be requesting foreign assistance to carry out exhumations and DNA identification. Media reports showed relatives of victims and other people unearthing clothing and bone fragments while wandering the site.“These families have been waiting for over 15 years to know the truth and obtain justice,” said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director at Amnesty International. “The NTC and experts must approach the evidence and remains on this site with the utmost care.” “The Abu Salim Prison massacre was one of the most infamous chapters of Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s rule,” Claudio Cordone added. “We can appreciate the anguish and distress of families whose believe their relatives were killed in Abu Salim. But exhumations by those not properly qualified or equipped to carry them out will only impede the rights of victims and their families to truth and justice.” For years, families of those killed in Abu Salim had called on the al-Gaddafi government to reveal the truth about the prison killings, to little avail.Amnesty International urges the NTC to make sure that no exhumations or identification of remains takes place without the presence of forensic experts working to international standards, in particular the UN Model Protocol for Disinterment and Analysis of Skeletal Remains.More than 1,200 prisoners are believed to have died during the Abu Salim Prison killings of June 1996. A prison riot sparked by appalling conditions was initially met with random gunfire. Later, officials negotiated with prisoner representatives and promised to address some grievances. However, the next morning, prisoners were taken into the prison courtyards and shot.“The persistence of relatives of victims of Abu Salim for truth and justice in the face of repression and harassment no doubt helped to break the wall of silence and contributed to the ‘17 February Revolution’.” said Claudio Cordone.Relatives of victims of Abu Salim were the first to protest in the streets of Benghazi in mid-February against the arrests of two members of the Organizing Committee of Families of Victims of Abu Salim.