The behavior of some Libyan rebels is being called into question Wednesday after the Human Rights Watch reports four villages have been burned and looted as rebels move through the Nafusa Mountains. According to the organization, rebel forces have "damaged property, burned some homes, looted from hospitals, homes, and shops, and beaten some individuals alleged to have supported government forces." Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East and North Africa director with Human Rights Watch, said rebel leaders should "halt and punish" all rebel abuses. "The rebel authorities have a duty to protect civilians and their property, especially hospitals, and discipline anyone responsible for looting or other abuse." Senior commander Col. Mukhtar Farnana told HRW that directives handed down to rebel forces said "not to attack civilians or damage civilian property." Some abuses had taken place and offenders had already been punished. "If we hadn't issued directives, people would have burned these towns down to the ground," the Colonel told Human Rights Watch.
The New York Times' C.J. Chivers spoke with rebel forces about the incidents following the release of the report. One rebel confirmed to him they had been ordered not to damage the homes, but "orders ran up against the realities of waging war with a nonprofessional, quasi-military force." The men beaten were always ones who aided pro-Qaddafi forces and their homes were often used as store houses for ammunition and weaponry. "We can’t just keep guarding and looking after these homes," because of the limited manpower of the army, a rebel told Chivers.
A rebel supporter who worked as a medic at a hospital in a newly rebel-occupied town helped the rebels load equipment onto trucks and transport it to another hospital, says Human Rights Watch. The hospital in al-Awaniya, his town, "was very well-equipped, and we basically took everything. It was well equipped for Gaddafi troops. [Rebels] said that Zintan would be the central hospital for the region.... I heard that the equipment from [the] Rayayinah [polyclinic] went to Zintan too."
Chivers points out that many captured pro-Qadaffi supporters have been treated for wounds and received other medical treatment during the conflict. Others have been "beaten and shot at." Rebels also have too much time downtime, as some have, "been seen by journalists repeatedly firing makeshift rocket launchers indiscriminately into territory or towns held by the Qaddafi forces."
When compared to the evils of the Qaddafi forces though, the rebels come across like saints. Pro-Qaddafi forces "have fired on unarmed demonstrators and used artillery, rocket batteries and mortars against many rebel-held cities and towns," and there have been photos that "strongly suggested that some of Colonel Qaddafi’s units have executed detainees."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.