By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 14 June 2013:
It should not have taken the deaths of 32 people in Benghazi for the government and . . .[restrict]the General National Congress to have finally decided to act against illegal militias, said Human Rights Watch today.
“Whether or not the government’s investigation can determine who fired the first shot, what matters here is the authorities’ complete failure to provide basic protection to its own people,” said Eric Goldstein, HRW’s MENA deputy director. “That failure drove scores of citizens to take matters into their own hands.”
HRW also warned that the Prosecutor-General’s investigation ordered by the GNC, should hold accountable all those responsible for violence and killings. Moreover the enquiry needed to find out why government forces did not intervene in the raging battle until dozens of people had already been killed.
According to HRW, eye witnesses it had interviewed gave conflicting reports of how the incident began and developed.
One said members of the Benghazi-based Bargathi tribe had gone to the Libya Shield 1 Brigade base in the Kweifieh area, to demand its closure, and to file a grievance against one militia member, who they accused of abusing residents.
HRW reported: “Witnesses said the delegation met with the commander of the brigade, Wissam Bin Hamid. After the Bargathi delegation left the camp, demonstrators threw stones at the militia, which fired warning shots to disperse the crowd.”
Other people at the scene told HRW that only a small number of the protestors was armed whereas the members of the brigade had a considerable number of weapons.
Khalil Areiq, a field commander of the Libya Shield 1 Brigade, insisted to HRW that he saw one person throw two homemade explosives, known locally as ‘Gelatina’, toward the base, and that this provoked a response. He acknowledged the militia then used heavy weapons, including antiaircraft weapons, against the demonstrators, but claimed the protesters also used machine guns. Another member of the brigade claimed that he had seen members of the Libyan special forces in the crowd of demonstrators.
Said Goldstein: “The government needs to end the impunity for militia abuses that prompted this demonstration in the first place. Its incoherent policy toward militias endangers any prospects for the rule of law.”
He added: “Libya’s government should make it unequivocally clear it can and is willing to prevent tragedies such as the one in Benghazi. It shouldn’t take the death of 32 citizens for the authorities to wake up and act.” [/restrict]