Amnesty International has published a report about what it said an unrelenting crisis of impunity in Libya that has enabled fighters of the Tariq Ben Zeyad (TBZ) armed group, led by Saddam Haftar, son of Khalifa Haftar, to commit war crimes, and other crimes under international law, with the aim of crushing any challenge to the “Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) under his father’s grip.
The new Amnesty International’s research briefing, “We are your masters”: Rampant crimes by the Tariq Ben Zeyad armed group, details how the TBZ, led by Saddam Haftar and his second-in-command Omar Imraja, has routinely targeted thousands of actual or perceived critics and opponents of the LAAF.
Amnesty International said that according to evidence gathered by its teams, including eyewitness accounts, audio-visual material and official statements, Saddam Haftar, the de facto group leader and Omar Imraja, nominally the commander but effectively the second-in-command who exercises control over day-to-day operations, knew or should have known about crimes being committed by their subordinates, but did not do anything to prevent these crimes or punish the perpetrators.
“They were, at the very least, fully aware of violations committed in detention centers controlled by the TBZ.” Amnesty International said.
“Since its emergence in 2016, the Tariq Ben Zeyad armed group has terrorized people in areas under LAAF control, inflicting a catalogue of horrors, including unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, rape and other sexual violence, and forced displacement — with no fear of consequences,” said Hussein Baoumi, Amnesty International’s Egypt and Libya researcher.
He added that it is high time that a criminal investigation is launched into the command responsibility of Saddam Haftar and Omar Imraja.
“They should immediately be removed from positions that would enable them to perpetrate further violations or enable them to interfere in investigations, pending the outcome of investigations. The LAAF must also close all unofficial detention centers operated by the TBZ and release all those arbitrarily detained.” Baoumi explained.
Amnesty International said it interviewed 38 current and former residents of LAAF-controlled areas between February and September 2022,, including former detainees, internally displaced persons, military commanders and fighters, with some interviews conducted during a field trip to Libya and others remotely.
“We reviewed official statements and audiovisual evidence relating to TBZ. On 3 October 2022, Amnesty International shared its findings with the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) and the Office of the Public Prosecutor as well as the General Commander of the LAAF for comment, none of whom had replied by the time of publication.” Amnesty International said.
Amnesty International’s findings include the cases of 25 individuals who were arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared by the TBZ between 2017 and 2022 because of their political views or their tribal, family, or regional affiliations.
Baoumi reiterated that without the international community shifting its approach on Libya to prioritize human rights over short-sighted political interests, countless more people living at the mercy of the TBZ face being abducted, killed, tortured or disappeared.
Amnesty International said that the TBZ, since late 2021, had been involved in the forcible removal of thousands of refugees and migrants from Sabha and surrounding areas.
It added that the TBZ was also involved in the forced displacement of thousands of Libyan families during the LAAF’s military campaigns to take control of the cities of Benghazi and Derna in eastern Libya between 2014 and 2019.