Mines Pose New Danger As Libya Battles Rage On

By Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s crisis researcher

As fighting continues between forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi and those opposed to his rule for control of the strategic oil-rich region west of Ajdabiya, yet more families are being displaced by the conflict. Evidence that al-Gaddafi’s forces have laid anti-personnel mines – which are internationally banned on account of the grave danger they pose to civilians – beside the main road on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, not just anti-tank mines, has heightened concern for the safety of local residents and people travelling in the area.

Evidence that al-Gaddafi’s forces have laid anti-personnel mines has heightened concern for local residents © Amnesty International

The anti-personnel mines were discovered only by chance when an electricity company truck drove over and detonated two of the mines on the morning of 28 March, just two days after Colonel al-Gaddafi’s forces had been forced to retreat from the area.

‘AbdelMina’ im al-Shanty, the company’s operations director for eastern Libya, told me that electricity supply workers had been dispatched to the area to repair power lines damaged during the two-week siege of the town. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blast, thanks to the sturdiness of the truck, but if any of the workers had stepped on the mines they would almost certainly have lost limbs or worse. Anti-personnel mines are banned internationally and must not be used anywhere or under any circumstances. That these anti-personnel lines were planted close to a significant population centre and in area of frequent passage is even more reprehensible.


Ivory Coast on Brink of Human Rights Catastrophe

Months after disputed presidential elections in Cote D’Ivoire, the country seems to move towards the final showdown. Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled the spreading crisis, and the new escalation is likely to displace more people or put them at risk of being caught in the crossfire.

With violence escalating and forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara advancing toward the Ivory Coast capital of Abedjan, Amnesty International warned today that the capital city faces a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe and urged the international community to protect civilians. We have learned of retribution attacks and uncontrolled armed elements looting and burning homes and shooting civilians in the west.

Salvatore Saguès, Amnesty International’s researcher on West Africa, made the following statement:

Abidjan is on the brink of a human right catastrophe and total chaos. Côte d’Ivoire is facing a major humanitarian crisis. The parties to the conflict must immediately stop targeting the civilian population. The international community must take immediate steps to protect the civilian population.

Since the beginning of the week, the Republican Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara have launched a general offensive against the forces loyal to outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to cede power.
As the Republican forces advance in the west and in the center of the country, violence has escalated. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Tales of Terror as Rockets Fall on Benghazi

By Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International crisis researcher

Yesterday, at the home of the Dbeish family in Hay Dollar, a wealthy neighbourhood in the south-west of Benghazi, Hanan, a mother of six, showed me the smashed up bedroom where she had been sleeping with three of her children when a rocket smashed through the ceiling last Saturday morning, 19 March.

Not only Hanan but also Mohab, her nine-year-old son and Bariq, her daughter aged 11, sustained multiple shrapnel injuries all over their bodies. By great good fortune, their injuries are mostly superficial and Hanan’s baby son, Fawzi, just six months old, escaped unharmed.  All are now back at home and recovering. Hanan told me:

I was breastfeeding the baby and shielded him with my body and the blanket. It was terrifying. As the sound of shelling and shooting in the distance got closer I told my husband and the children to come to this side of the house which is further away from the street. I was afraid of the shooting, I never thought that a rocket would hit the house.

Rockets have destroyed several homes in Benghazi © Amnesty International

Surveying the damage in the bedroom, I could see that Hanan and her children were very lucky to escape with relatively minor injuries. There was a large gaping hole in the ceiling where the rocket had come through from the roof-terrace and smashed through the floor between the two beds where Hanan and her children were sleeping; much of the furniture was broken by shrapnel from the rocket and flying debris.

Rockets like the one that hit the Dbeish family home landed in several other locations, fortunately without causing casualties among the civilian residents of the area but damaging property.  At least two rockets, both packed with small metal balls, had landed nearby. One landed in the courtyard of the Souissi family home, where it destroyed several cars and damaged windows and walls. The other landed in the street, severing power cables. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

As Situation in Libya Escalates Alarmingly, UN Has to Act

While the human rights situation in Libya continues to escalate at an alarming rate, the UN Security Council is meeting in New York to decide on next steps. We are calling for the United States to take a leadership role in the discussions at the Security Council, including the support of an arms embargo and a referral to the International Criminal Court.

We continue to receive reports that many people are being killed by forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddfi and the situation is deteriorating. It seems that at least several hundred people, possibly many more, have been killed across the country and others now are at grave risk. We have received new information that many victims had been shot in the head, chest or neck, suggesting that the security forces had intended to kill them.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign our online petition calling for a UN led investigation to ensure accountability for these crimes and an international arms embargo. Colonel al-Gaddafi and his chain of command have to understand they will answer for their actions. They need to see that investigation and prosecution are a reality they will face.

This should act as a wake-up call to those issuing the orders and those who carry them out: your crimes will not go unpunished. Members of the Security Council must act now to stop the outrageous abuses taking place on the streets of Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya.

Report from Cote d'Ivoire

After spending four weeks in Côte d’Ivoire investigating human rights violations, our research team just returned a few days ago with a gruesome report. Since the November 2010 elections, human rights violations – which have included extrajudicial executions, ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions, disappearances and sexual violence – have been rampant.

These violations and abuses are being committed both the security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the outgoing Ivoirian President, and the Forces Nouvelles (FN), loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the election.

One rape victim told our researchers:

On the 19 December, they came to my house in Abobo. They came in the middle of the night; I was sleeping with my husband and my children. They were hammering at the door. Our door is right on the street, we didn’t open. They then broke down the door, our door is made of wood. They came in, eight of them, four in plain clothes and four soldiers in military fatigues and balaclavas. Two of them took my husband outside and six of them came upon me. They told me to undress and when I didn’t, they came at me again. They all took turns raping me and threw my children to the floor, the children were crying. I was screaming. I don’t know what they were doing to my husband. After, I heard two gun shots. Then they left and I found my husband outside lying on his stomach. He was dead. The people who raped me and killed my husband told me that if I wanted to complain, I should go to Alassane Ouattara.

The political standoff between Gbagbo and Ouattara has also exacerbated long-standing inter-communal tension between ethnic groups in western parts of the country. For example, January 2011 clashes in Duékoué (an area about 500 km west of Abidjan) have resulted in roughly 40 deaths, an increasing incidence of rapes, and hundreds of homes and properties burned and looted, forcing an estimated 70,000 people to flee to other villages and makeshift internally displaced people (IDP) camps. Witnesses told Amnesty that ethnicity and alleged political affiliations were the reasons behind the attacks.

Throughout Cote d’Ivoire, impunity is the norm. As our research team reported, “The attackers are virtually never caught and the victims have no hope of obtaining justice and reparation.” This must end.

Read more about the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire and stay tuned to find out how you can help.

Sara Harden, Africa Program, contributed to this blog post

Security Council and Arab League Must Act on Libyan Crimes Today

Update, February 23:

  • Call on US government officials to play a leadership role at the United Nations to ensure that it imposes a total arms embargo on Libya and sends a mission there immediately to investigate the violence.
  • Read a coalition letter that urges the UN Human Rights Council to act. The letter is sent to Foreign Ministries around the world (pdf)

The UN Security Council and the Arab League have to launch an immediate mission to Libya to investigate events that have left hundreds of protesters dead, Amnesty International said in a press release today. Over the last few days, hundreds of protesters have reportedly been killed in Libya. According to several accounts, demonstrators were also attacked by helicopter gunships.

The call for the investigation, which could lead to prosecutions at the International Criminal Court (ICC), comes as both the UN Security Council and the Arab League meet today for special sessions to discuss the spiraling violence in the country.

The UN Security Council should also impose a total arms embargo on Libya, amidst reports that security forces are continuing to deploy a range of weaponry, munitions and related equipment to use lethal force against protesters.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, made the following statement:

Colonel al-Gaddafi and his government appear to be prepared to kill as many people as it takes to stay in power. The international community needs to act now to put a stop to this. The international community must immediately make it clear to all those in the Libyan government, military and security apparatus that they and those carrying out their orders will be held to account for crimes under international law, such as those now being reported. The Security Council must also put an immediate end to the export or transfer of all arms and military equipment to Libya. People are being killed in their hundreds with intent. Other states must not be complicit in further killing. All military and police supplies and cooperation with Libya must stop now until the risk of such serious human rights violations is ended.

The UN and Arab League should send representatives to Libya immediately, either jointly or separately, to investigate the situation on the ground and report rapidly to the Security Council.

The recommendations should include a judgement as to whether the scale of the crimes being committed in Libya warrants a Security Council referral to the Prosecutor of the ICC.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay yesterday said that the Libyan authorities’ actions against protesters may amount to crimes against humanity.

February 12: Join Global Actions on Egypt

For updates on the Global Day of Action for Egypt, please check back on our blog or follow us on Twitter over the next days.

New killings of protesters in Egypt remind us of the urgent need for institutional change in Egypt that will prevent such human rights abuses. Furthermore, it is a wake up call for activists worldwide to demonstrate global solidarity with protesters in Egypt. This Saturday, Amnesty International, partner organizations and Egyptian activists are organizing public rallies across the world in solidarity with the Egyptian people and to call for permanent human rights reforms in Egypt. In the United States, we will also send a clear message to the US government that now is not the time for settling on human rights compromises and will urge President Obama to call on Egyptian authorities to implement institutional changes that will prevent human rights abuses, such as the lifting of the state of emergency.

Click to see full flyer. (c) Photo AP

People all over the world will hold public events to stand in solidarity with the people of Egypt and the wider Middle East & North Africa in their demands for an end to repression, for their freedom, their basic human rights and immediate reforms.

We will be organizing several events in the United States. You can find some basic info below; more details will be posted over the next hours and days: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Activists in the United States Show Solidarity with Egyptian Protesters

While millions of people are protesting in Egypt, an increasing number of activists also take to the streets in the U.S. to demand dignity and basic human rights for the Egyptian people. Find below some images from our rally at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC.

Protecting the right to demonstrate peacefully is a duty. We welcome the army’s commitment not to fire on protesters, after we have repeatedly raised concerns about the excessive use of force by security forces during the demonstrations – Claudio Cordone, AI Senior Director

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Don't Ignore the Dire Human Rights Situation in Sudan

This posting is part of the Sudan Referendum Watch series

While many observers are optimistic that the referendum in South Sudan this Sunday will go ahead peacefully, the last few months do not bode well for the future human rights situation in the country (no matter what the outcome of the referendum will be).

Thousands have been displaced by the government’s military offensive in Darfur, while the international community’s attention is focused on preparations for the referendum and the negotiation of a peace agreement for Darfur.  Since December 2010, more than 20,000 people in Darfur have been displaced during attacks by the Khartoum government’s attacks on various parts of North and South Darfur, including camps for the displaced in Dar Al Salam, Shangil Tobaya and Khor Abeche. The international community shouldn’t repeat its mistakes from 2004 and 2005, when focus on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) led to an ignorance (and acceptance) of grave crimes committed in Darfur.

The April 2010 elections were marked by human rights violations and threats to freedom of expression in both the south and north of the country and  we remain concerned that such violations would occur again during or after the referendum.

Human rights should be at the heart of this coming referendum. The governments of unity and of south Sudan should make it clear that human rights violations will not be tolerated. The respect, protection and promotion of human rights in Sudan are vital to the success of this historic vote.

An Amnesty International delegation recently returned from Juba in southern Sudan where it assessed the human rights situation ahead of the referendum. To get detailed information about our human rights concerns in Sudan, please take a look at some of our resources:

For an interesting non-AI resource, don’t forget to follow the Sudan Vote Monitor (SVM), which was launched today. SVM is a Sudanese civil society initiative to monitor the referendum and is based on the powerful Ushahidi plattform.

Security and Justice in Cote d’Ivoire

By Erwin Knippenberg, Cote d’Ivoire Country Specialist

As ECOWAS negotiators entered a second round of talks with incumbent president Gbagbo, security and justice for Ivorian citizens must remain the main concern. Any violators of human rights can and should be held accountable to the ICC.

According to the UN, Gbago backers are responsible for 173 deaths since the election and 90 cases of torture.  Armed groups still conduct nightraids in certain neighborhoods, beating up or kidnapping people perceived as opponents to the regime. The situation could still escalate into full civil war and ethnic cleansing. We see government sponsored hate speech aimed at immigrants and attacks on peacekeepers as bad omens. In Rwanda, such racist rhetoric mixed with political concerns escalated into genocide. We cannot allow this to happen again.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara have pledged to protect civilians, and Gbagbo explicitly condemned any groups involved in these atrocities. Yet, forces loyal to him continue in their rhetoric and have blocked UN investigations into reports of two mass graves.

Instead, Gbagbo has ordered the UN force to leave, citing violations of his country’s national sovereignty, specifically targeting France. Some of his supporters have even attacked UN peacekeepers.

Amnesty International has outlined its official position on Cote d’Ivoire, emphasizing the protection of human rights and the importance of holding violators accountable. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST