By Libya Herald reporters.
Tripoli, 19 May 2016:
The murders, sometime by beheading, of at least 49 individuals by IS terrorists in Sirte are set out in detail in a new report from Human Right’s Watch which UNSMIL chief Martin Kobler today described as “sickening”.
These are the known victims over the year to this February, who were selected because they were alleged to be spies or blasphemers or sorcerers or captured militia opponents. However HRW was told by a Sirte councillor who had fled the town, that dozens of other militia men had disappeared and were presumed to have been killed by the terrorists.
The shootings and beheadings of prisoners, generally dressed in Guantanamo-style orange jump suits, were often followed by their corpses being hung for two or three days from a metal frame at the Zaafran roundabout.
HRW says that the nature and scale of IS’s unlawful executions and other behaviour in Libya may well amount to crimes against humanity.
As the report sets it out, such crimes do not simply involve the executions and beating which IS themselves go to some lengths to publicise. Sirte’s population has also had to endure appalling treatment. The third of the original 80,000 population who remain, do so apparently because they cannot afford to leave. And they are struggling to survive.
HRW researchers interviewed 45 Sirte residents this March in Misrata. The townspeople had either abandoned their homes or were in Misrata on errands. The organisation carried out further interviews by phone or internet.
According to these locals, there are around 1,800 IS personnel in the town, including fighters, police and functionaries”. This is a markedly lower figure than has been estimated by other sources which has ranged as high as a force of 6,000.
HRW was told that IS has imposed its own severe interpretation of Sharia law on the community to regulate all aspects of life in the town. These include the dictating of the length of men’s trousers and the width and colour of women’s gowns. The morality police, the Hisba mounted regular patrols and with the help of informants tracked down men who had been smoking, even in their own homes, or listening to music or failing to ensure that their wives and sisters were covered from head to toe in shapeless black abayas. The Hisba would threaten or fine or flog those caught breaking their rules. They also seized men and boys and forced them into mosques at prayer times.
Sirte University has been shuttered since late last year after IS banned the teaching of history and law and ordered separate classes for females. Since then both students and lecturers have been boycotting the campus.
But the witnesses spoken to by HRW made clear that it was not simply the climate of intense fear that that made living in Sirte so difficult. IS is failing to provide basic necessities to the population. Food, medicine, fuel and cash are being diverted to its own people, who have also confiscated and looted properties that they desire.
One witness told researchers: “Life in Sirte is unbearable. Everyone is living in fear. They are killing innocent people. There are no groceries, the hospital has no doctors or nurses, there is no medicine. …There are spies on every street. Most people have left but we are trapped. We don’t have enough money to leave”. All the bank branches are shut save one which is for the exclusive use of IS.
Another resident who had fled the Misrata confided: “The final stage of the  revolution was in Sirte. We were filled with hope. Then step by step, Daesh [IS] took over. Now we feel we are cursed”.
The first elements of IS began filtering into Sirte in 2014. The town is now completely in its hands, says HRW. It occupies the port, the radio station, all local government offices as well as the main power station and the Al-Qardabiya air base from which it drove out Misratan forces a year ago. It has created three prisons, one of which is in a former kindergarten. It seeks to control communications by running a single call centre which is the only way that townspeople are allowed to contact the outside world.
In the conclusion to its report HRW renews past criticisms of international inaction.
“United Nations bodies have repeatedly failed to act on their promises to identify and punish the perpetrators of serious crimes in Libya” wrote the authors. “Concerned foreign governments could also do more to hold human rights abusers in Libya to account, either by exploring possible prosecutions in their own countries or by increasing resources for further Libya investigations at the International Criminal Court”.
As reported elsewhere, the ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has claimed consistently that she lacks the resources to even open case files let along proceed to prosecutions. [/restrict]