What is Libya’s new democracy if it is built on racial hatred?
With the support of the great and the good, Libya is inching ever closer to what we hope will be a democratic future.
On 1 September 2011, leaders from some 60 countries gathered in Paris for a conference on the future of Libya and to deliberate on ways to support Libya’s government-in-waiting – the National Transitional Council (NTC).
The “friends of Libya” meeting hosted by French President, Nicholas Sarkozy and the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged to maintain military pressure of Colonel Gadaffi and to release funds to support the NTC and a transition to democracy in Libya. Speaking at the event, Sarkozy said: “We are all committed to returning to Libya the money of yesterday for the building of tomorrow.”
Much would have surely been discussed at the event, not least, as the Russian media suggests, the scramble for Libya’s oil. But one important issue would have surely been ignored: the ongoing racially-motivated attack on Libya’s black population by the rebel forces.
These attacks on both African immigrants and black Libyans (part of the legacy of 19th Century slave trade) have largely remained on the periphery of mainstream media . The political establishment, supporting the rebels, have done even less to acknowledge these atrocities that tarnish the rebels’ pursuit of democracy.
The plight of Africans in Libya is nothing new. As far back as 1998, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern about Libya’s racist attacks on black migrant workers. In 2006, Human Right Watch documented instances of human right abuses against migrant workers. And again, the 13th session of the UN Human Rights Council, in February 2010, called on Libya to end “the racial persecution of two million black African migrants.” But violent attacks have escalated and by the end of August 2011, Africa Union chair, Jean Ping, made a plea for intervention.
At the start of the rebellion, the international media broadcasted reports from Libya that Colonel Gadaffi could be using African mercenaries, though humanitarian organisations have yet to find evidence of this. What there is evidence for however, is the indiscriminate killing of migrant workers, first by Gaddafi’s troops and then by the NATO-backed rebel forces.
In Misrata, a rebel slogan salutes “the brigade for purging slaves, black skin“. Looking at the mounting evidence, the blog, Human Rights Investigations has gone on to call it the “Libyan rebel ethnic cleansing and lynching of black people.”
With the involvement of NATO and now a diverse group of states offering support to Libya, these atrocities can no longer be ignored. Surely, though it is the rebels that pull the trigger, the blood of innocent black people is on all our hands?
In a joint letter published in the International Business Times in April, Obama, Cameron and Sakrozy spoke about the need to act in Libya stating: “We are convinced that better times lie ahead for the people of Libya…Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that.”
Does that concern for Libyans extend to its black population whose women are being raped, sons hanged and husbands murdered at random?
As the mainstream media remains largely apathetic to the plight of African migrants and focuses on the ‘heroic’ advance of the rebels, I fix my eyes on President Obama who, whether or not he knows it, likes it or accepts it, his election as the first black president of America brought hope to millions of black people located in various parts of the world. Will he give substance to that hope? Will his legacy include the pursuit of justice for the voiceless and persecuted?
It is worthwhile noting, not just for our elected leaders but for us all in whose name they act, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who once said: “A time comes when silence is betrayal”.
Guest blogger, Ahmed Sule, is a financial analyst by profession and a photojournalist by passion. He describes himself as a ‘social provocateur.’ You can find out more here.
This footage from Al-Jazeera English examines the threat migrant workers were facing at the start of the rebel movement. Since then, more shocking videos of the murder of black people have been posted on You Tube.