BBC News

Libya rights abuses: Evidence assessed

By Peter Biles
BBC world affairs correspondent

media captionOrla Guerin's report contains graphic and distressing images

As reports emerge of abuses and alleged killings by both rebels and troops loyal to Col Gaddafi, the United Nations has called on all sides in the conflict to take steps to ensure there are no acts of violence and revenge.

At the same time, the NTC's chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has urged rebels not to engage in revenge attacks against pro-Gaddafi fighters, threatening to resign if his warning is not heeded.

Slowly but surely, atrocities committed by the Gaddafi regime are being uncovered. In the week and more since Libyan rebels entered Tripoli, horror stories of human rights violations have been emerging.

The UN's rights body (OHCHR) says it is extremely alarmed by the reports of mass killings.

"We are also deeply concerned about reports that there are still thousands of people unaccounted for who were arrested or taken prisoner by Gaddafi security forces either earlier in the conflict, or before it even started," said a spokesperson for OHCHR.

For some in Libya, history is simply repeating itself. In the summer of 1996, stories began to filter out of the country about a mass killing in Tripoli's Abu Salim prison. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that according to Libyan groups outside the country, up to 1,200 prisoners had died. The details were sketchy, however. HRW said the government initially denied that an incident had taken place. Only years later did Col Gaddafi acknowledge that there had been killings at Abu Salim.

The fate of those imprisoned 15 years ago will surely have been on the minds of the Libyans who have disappeared since the current conflict began in February this year.

In the main square in rebel-held Benghazi, families have posted up hundreds of photographs of the missing. It is assumed that many of them had been held in prisons and detention centres by pro-Gaddafi forces.

Human rights groups are now struggling to gather information about what has happened over the past few weeks. It is proving difficult to gauge the scale of the human rights abuses.

image captionPeople were horrified to discover dozens of charred bodies on the weekend

HRW believes that at least 100 detainees have been killed. In the worst atrocity discovered so far, the charred skeletal remains of 45 bodies, still smouldering, were found in a warehouse in the Khalida Ferjan neighbourhood in Salahaddin, south of Tripoli. It is believed that those responsible were members of the Khamis Brigade, the military force that was run by one of Colonel Gaddafi's sons, Khamis.

Further evidence from HRW suggests that at least 17 detainees were killed in a makeshift prison in the Gargur district of Tripoli, while 18 bodies were found rotting in small groups in a dry riverbed near Bab al-Aziziya, Col Gaddafi's former compound.

"We are investigating these incidents as war crimes," says HRW's Peter Bouchard.

"They should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. We have asked all of the witnesses whether they would be willing to testify at the ICC."

The court at The Hague has already issued indictments against Col Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi. The ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is reported as saying he may also seek an arrest warrant for Khamis Gaddafi.

Despite the best intentions of the ICC, bringing Col Gaddafi and his aides to The Hague will be fraught with problems, not least of which is that for now Col Gaddafi has still to be tracked down, and Libya's killing spree is not yet over.