Given the looming victorious euphoria, it is quite understandable that the Libyan rebels are venting out their anger on anything that represents Gadaffi’s rule. Unfortunately, the resentment of the many years of Gadaffi’s autocratic rule, at the moment uncontained, is virulently being directed at black-looking Africans. Should this trend continue, the Libyan rebels risk tainting their struggle and possibly quashing the promise for a democratic transition.
The web is a buzz with horrific images of black Africans corpses littering the streets of Tripoli. They rebels have denied responsibility, but there is evidence incriminating them. At a time when the rebels are trying tooth and nail to establish for a much needed legitimacy, this is a disturbing and counter-productive development. Summary execution, no matter how guilty the victim is presumed to be, cannot be tolerated. Not in a civilized society. In this century, given the quick flow of information, anyone who claims to fight for democratic ideals cannot engage in such blatant disregard for the law.
Rebel sympathizers charge that most of these victims are mercenaries imported from neighboring countries. Indeed, given Gadaffi’s luring wealth there is reason to suspect that this might the case. Yet, as the New York Times has observed, there are not many confirmed cases of black mercenaries. The international media has been prevented from interviewing many of the black prisoners, meaning that we know very little about from their perspective. If African migrant workers are being wrongly framed as mercenaries to justify their execution, what is the motive of this macabre strategy?
What is further disheartening is that the rebel leadership is yet to acknowledge this problem or even to address it. To be sure, the National Transition Council (NTC) has called for the fighters to exercise caution. They have urged them to respect human rights and the laws of war. This is an admirable position to take. However, a massacre as systematic as this one appears to be calls for categorical condemnations from the highest levels.
Many Africans support the Libyan struggle. We have been moved by the selfless and valiant sacrifice of the Libyan people. Furthermore, we are sympathetic to the rights of a people to be free. This is at the heart of the anti-colonial struggles that gave birth to the African states. An ideal that is too difficult to betray. Granted, and as was expected, our dictators-in-chief are troubled by such uprisings. However, this is far from a representation of the African voices. As such, ordinary black Africans in Libya need not to the pay the price.
One possible solution is for the Libyan rebels to either move the black refugees elsewhere to more peaceful areas (perhaps to Benghazi?) or repatriate them back to their countries of origin. I am guessing that the UNHCR would be willing to help coordinate this process. Captured mercenaries must be treated with the same rights accorded to prisoners of war as per the Geneva Convention. This includes the right to life and the prospects of a free and fair trial.
Continuing to carelessly target black individuals will lead to an embarrassment that even NATO cannot ignore. As a matter of principle, NATO is in Libya to stop the killings of civilians. They have done a commendable job thus far in stopping Gadaffi’s genocidal machine. Their job cannot end there, and they cannot allow their partners to engage in similar criminal activities. If they allow them to do so, even implicitly, then their mission is questionable.
My hope is that the conflict will end as soon as possible. This is the surest way of guaranteeing an end to the suffering of Libyans and black migrant workers. However, before it ends, we cannot ignore the plight of these black Africans. No one deserves to be killed because of who they are.