The Address | Benghazi – Libya
TAWERGHA – Most of the 48,000 former residents of the Libyan town of Tawergha, forcibly displaced for seven years, have not been able to return home, Human Rights Watch said today after visiting the town.
Despite reconciliation agreements that should have paved the way for Tawerghans’ return, the massive and deliberate destruction of the town and its infrastructure, and a pervasive feeling of insecurity, have kept all but a few families from returning. New satellite imagery analysis shows that between 2013 and 2017, when militias from the nearby city of Misrata effectively controlled Tawergha, over 20 kilometers of the city’s underground electric cable network was most likely removed and apparently stolen.
“The militias, predominantly from Misrata, that uprooted and expelled the Tawerghans didn’t stop there but presided over the city’s systematic destruction, apparently to ensure that the displaced would find it impossible to return,” said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Government of National Accord should urgently devise a strategy for Tawerghans’ safe return, ensuring reconstruction and security, and accountability for militia members and commanders responsible for deliberate displacement and destruction.”
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor should consider possible war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Tawergha community as part of her office’s ongoing investigative efforts to address ongoing grave abuses in Libya, Human Rights Watch said.
An estimated 48,000 Tawerghans have been dispersed around the country since the uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In August of that year, the entire civilian population fled approaching anti-Gaddafi armed groups, predominantly from Misrata, fearing attacks and reprisals.
In what amounts to collective punishment and forced displacement, a possible crime against humanity, armed Misrata groups and civilian authorities subsequently blocked and threatened Tawerghans who tried to return home, accusing them of siding with Gaddafi and of committing atrocities against those seeking his overthrow. People from Tawergha were unable to visit, let alone return, to their homes until the signing of the peace charter in 2018.
Representatives of the two cities signed a reconciliation charter in June that in principle provided for the Tawerghans’ return. But as of December, only about 100 families have attempted to resettle in their hometown, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Returnees face a devastated infrastructure, with no electricity, running water, or telecommunications, and scant education and health services. Some said they still feared attacks and retaliation by Misrata militias, Human Rights Watch said.