by Steve B from Amnesty International UK Blogs
Mikhael Gorbachev this afternoon compared the events in the Middle East and North Africa to the collapse of eastern Europe’s Communist bloc – and as protests have spread across the region it’s easy to see why. I like his quote:
“They say this is a dangerous path, dangerous for the ruling elites. But listen – we should think about the people. They can only develop if they can influence politics.”
Libya, one of the most repressive states in this part of the world, is the latest to be rocked by massive protests, which reports say have now spread to the capital, Tripoli. I’ve just been reading that the state TV building and other government offices have been attacked, with Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s son warning of the risk of ‘civil war’.
This is despite the extreme violence with which protests have been met by the security services, including reports of snipers and machine-guns being used against unarmed demonstrators.
My colleague Donatella Rovera has been talking regularly with medical staff in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, in the last few days. She says staff at the city’s Al-Jala hospital estimate the number of dead in yesterday’s protests at 60 with 200 injured. Injuries were to the head, neck, upper chest and abdomen – which suggests that the security forces were actively trying to kill them.
Overall, reports from hospitals in eastern Libya indicate that some 200 have been killed by security forces in recent days. Hospital staff told Amnesty International that they were struggling to cope with the high number of casualties. The true number of deaths could be much higher as this sample represents only the major hospitals. Some families are also likely to have buried their dead without taking the bodies to hospitals.
On Saturday, security forces reportedly opened fire with live ammunition on thousands of mourners who gathered outside a Revolutionary Guard building on their way back from the cemetery and chanted anti-government slogans, denouncing the Guards as “killers”.
This seems to be the bloodiest response to protests that we have seen so far and yet, amazingly, from the reports I’m seeing the protesters refuse to be cowed.
I’ve just read on Twitter (via Reuters) that Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil has resigned over “excessive use of violence against government protesters”. Also that the UK has revoked arms licences to Libya, as well as Bahrain, while summoning the Libyan ambassador to London to express “in the strongest terms our absolute condemnation of the use of lethal force against demonstrators”. It’s a bit of a volte-face after recent efforts to improve cooperation with Libya.
That the Libyan authorities are no friends of human rights is hardly shocking news to us at Amnesty – I suppose it wasn’t hard to predict that Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi would react strongly if the wave of popular protest reached Libya.
Colonel al-Gaddafi can, and must, put a stop to this bloodshed. He and the others directing the crackdown on protesters, and anyone else involved in abuses, must know that they will be held to account.