Amnesty finds abuses on both sides in Libya

Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi committed war crimes and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity during the Libyan conflict, but some rebels also engaged in abuses and a "settling of scores," Amnesty International says.

Opposition must end human rights abuses and investigate crimes, Amnesty says

Anti-Gadhafi fighters hold a young man at gunpoint in March. They accused him of being a Gadhafi loyalist. Amnesty International is calling on the transitional government to do more to promote human rights, saying it found evidence of abuse on both sides of the Libyan conflict. (Goran Tomasevic /Reuters)

Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi committed war crimes and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity during the Libyan conflict, but some rebel fighters also engaged in abuses and a "settling of scores," Amnesty International says in a new report.

The 107-page report, based on three months of investigation in the North African nation, found evidence of abuse perpetrated by both sides.

Gadhafi loyalists committed "serious violations" of international humanitarian law, the report says, including torture, execution and using excessive force against anti-regime protesters.

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Loyalist forces killed and injured scores of unarmed protesters, made critics disappear, used illegal cluster bombs, launched artillery, mortar and rocket attacks against residential areas, and, without any legal proceedings, executed captives, the report says.

Thousands of Libyans were kidnapped from their homes, mosques and streets, including children as young as 12, the report says.

Last week, Interpol issued it's top most-wanted alert for Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's ex-chief of military intelligence. The three are sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

Libyan opposition accused of abuses

Amnesty says members of the "loosely structured" anti-Gadhafi forces also committed human rights abuses. The report says some rebel abuses amount to war crimes "albeit on a smaller scale."

The report notes that opposition supporters targeted Gadhafi loyalists and some former members of the country's security forces.

"They also tortured and ill-treated captured soldiers, suspected 'mercenaries' and other alleged Gadhafi loyalists," according to the report.

Sub-Saharan Africans targeted

The Amnesty International report says both sides stirred up racism and xenophobia, causing sub-Saharan Africans to be increasingly attacked, robbed and abused by ordinary Libyans.

"In February, there was this rumour about Gadhafi using black people as mercenaries; that's wrong," Nicolas Beger, director of the Amnesty International European Institutions office, told Associated Press Television News in Brussels on Monday.

"But the NTC has not done a lot to curb that rumour and now there is a lot of retaliation against sub-Saharan Africans. Whether they were or they weren't involved with the Gadhafi forces, they are at real risk of being taken from their work or their homes or the street to be tortured or killed."

Source: Associated Press

Mohammed al-Alagi, justice minister for Libya's transitional authorities, said that describing the rebels' actions as war crimes is wrong.

"They are not the military, they are only ordinary people," al-Alagi told The Associated Press. While he acknowledged that rebels have made mistakes, he said they cannot be described as "war crimes at all."

The rights group urged Libya's transitional council to "get a grip" on armed anti-Gadhafi forces and ensure that reprisal attacks and arbitrary arrests are stopped.

Amnesty warned that abuses could continue as fighting continues in some areas, including Bani Walid, one of Gadhafi's few remaining strongholds.

"The new authorities must make a complete break with the abuses of the past four decades and set new standards by putting human rights at the centre of their agenda" said Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty International.

Cordone said the onus is now on transitional leaders to end abuses and "initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed."

He urged leaders to investigate the alleged abuses committed by both sides with a view to "fair trials" that respect international standards.

The Amnesty International report was based on a fact-finding visit to Libya between Feb. 26 and May 28, and covered events up to late July. The organization is based in Britain.

With files from The Associated Press