September 14, 2011

Black Africans come under fire in Libya

Widespread racism and suspicion toward sub-Saharan Africans in post-Gaddafi Libya endangers unarmed migrant workers.

As Libya’s National Transitional Council establishes itself in Tripoli as the country’s interim government and begins to lead the recovery process, reports have surfaced that NTC-affiliated fighters are targeting black Libyans and migrant workers with violent retribution.

Earlier reports alleged that ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi had hired mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa to push back rebel fighters, though it remains unclear how many of those soldiers may have remained in the country after the uprising began. Some groups of mercenary fighters have abandoned Gaddafi’s forces and fled into neighbouring Mali and Niger.

As fighting slows down in parts of the country, black Libyans and African labourers face chronic accusations of being Gaddafi’s hired mercenaries. NTC fighters have reportedly been rounding up and detaining accused mercenaries even if they are found unarmed.

By some estimates, more than 5,000 black migrants have been detained in makeshift jails around the country, and others have faced beatings, revenge killings, and even mass execution. Mercenary fighters found armed have been summarily executed, according to reports.

Most detainees maintain that they were not involved in fighting and are simply migrant workers detained without evidence.

Black women in refugee camps reported night-time kidnappings and rapes by fighters though to be associated with the NTC. Officials with the National Transitional Council deny such reports.

Partially in response to reports of race-based violence and detention in Libya, the African Union has refused to recognize the legitimacy of Libya’s interim government. It alleges that the persecution of blacks in the country amounts to human rights violations that fully delegitimise the post-Gaddafi leadership.

The United Nations has called on fighters and leaders on both sides of the conflict to prevent acts of retribution.

Before the Libyan uprising broke out earlier this year, the country hosted about a million black African workers, many of them employed in domestic work, construction, trash collection, and other low-wage jobs. Even before the fighting began, these workers faced widespread racism and discrimination.

Many workers are undocumented and therefore have no access to legal recourse.

Patrick Cockburn joins today’s show via Skype to discuss racial tensions in Libya and the roundup of accused mercenaries.

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