By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
TRIPOLI, Libya — Rebel forces making sweeps around Tripoli to clear out the last of Qaddafi’s forces have found a warehouse containing the charred remains of a large number of prisoners who were killed and burned.
The site was located near the southern Tripoli headquarters of the Khamis Brigade, Libya’s most notorious military unit. Residents who lived near the warehouse say they heard shooting and explosions on Tuesday evening. Due to the continued fighting no one was able to investigate until Saturday when residents and rebel forces discovered the remains of at least 53 people.
In addition to the news of the horrific find, Libyan rebels are also concerned over the fate of thousands of other prisoners, who had been held in Tripoli by the Qaddafi regime. Rebel military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said almost 50,000 people arrested in recent months are still unaccounted for.
It is believed that prisoners of the Qaddafi regime were kept in underground bunkers, which were subsequently abandoned during the rebel push into Tripoli. Human rights groups have noted evidence of human remains near prisons, but the rebels have yet to accuse anyone of killing the prisoners.
Specifically, Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of at least 17 detainees who were killed in a makeshift prison in Tripoli around August 21. “Torture was rife in Qaddafi’s prisons but to execute detainees days before they would have been freed is a sickening low in the government’s behavior,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The evidence we have been able to gather so far strongly suggests that Gaddafi government forces went on a spate of arbitrary killing as Tripoli was falling.”
Despite the hesitation from the rebel forces to label the missing prisoners as dead they are still attempting to get information on them. “Between 10,000 and 11,000 prisoners have been freed up until now…so where are the others?” asked Colonel Bani. Rebel forces are attempting to gather intelligence in hopes of finding clarifying information. Bani further noted that it would be “catastrophic” if the prisoners had been killed.
This harrowing news, which likely adds evidence for any future war crimes prosecution against the Qaddafi regime, was announced simultaneously with an admittance from the rebels that they have no real leads on where Qaddafi might be hiding. Rumors place him everywhere from Tripoli to his hometown of Sirte.
An offer was made over the weekend by a spokesperson for Qaddafi to open talks with the rebel government. It was flatly denied, and described by observers as “delusional.” The rebel government identifies Qaddafi as a war criminal, and has expressed their desire to put him on trial for war crimes upon his arrest.
For more information, please see:
BBC News — Libya rebels fear for Gaddafi’s prisoners — 28 Aug. 2011
Human Rights Watch — Libya: Gaddafi Forces Suspected of Executing Detainees — 28 Aug 2011
Sky News — “Mass Killing” Evidence Found in Libya — 27 Aug. 2011
The Telegraph — Human slaughterhouse discovered in Tripoli — 27 Aug. 2011