There is an escalating human rights crisis unfolding in Libya. "Thousands" of Black Libyans and migrants from sub-Sahara Africa have been randomly detained by rebel forces and militia. The detainees have been accused of being suspected mercenaries and hired from neighboring countries such as Chad and Niger to fight for the ousted Gadhafi regime, reports the New York Times.
But Libya has a black population of its own, and many black migrant workers were trapped in the country when the conflict began. And it seems that plenty of the black Africans captured as mercenaries were never actually involved in the fight.
The chairman of the African Union, Jean Ping, said that Libya’s Transitional National Council “seems to confuse black people with mercenaries” as [the NYT] reported. There are documented cases of mercenaries from elsewhere, including an ethnic Croatian named Mario who was interviewed in Time magazine last week.
Amnesty International issued a statement on Tuesday saying that people suspected of fighting for Colonel Qaddafi, “in particular black Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans, are at high risk of abuse” by rebel forces. The statement said that Amnesty representatives were told on recent visits to detention centers in al-Zawiya and Tripoli that one-third to half of the detainees there were from sub-Saharan Africa.
The Associated Press:
Oil-rich but with a relatively small population of 6.6. million, Gadhafi's Libya welcomed hundreds of thousands of black Africans looking for work in recent decades. Many young citizens of Mali and Niger who flocked to Libya in the 1970s and 1980s were recruited into an "Islamic Legion" modeled on the French Foreign Legion. In addition, Gadhafi's military recruited heavily from black tribes in Libya's south.
In February, witnesses reported African fighters shooting at protesters or being captured by anti-Gadhafi forces. Witnesses have described scores of mercenaries being flown in to put down the rebellion, although many of the fighters already were in Libya. As a result, people with roots in sub-Saharan Africa and black Libyan citizens have been targeted by rebel forces in the messy and confusing fight for control of the country.
African Union Chairman Jean Ping says there are reports that some Black Africans have been summarily executed.
Channel 4 News in Britain reported the frightening story of detained Blacks who literally begged journalists not to leave a roadside checkpoint because they feared for their lives. In that case, the men "appeared to be telling the truth" that they were not mercenaries and were allowed to leave.