The extremist armed group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has unlawfully executed at least 49 people in its Libyan stronghold of Sirte since February 2015, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released today.
Those killed, by means such as decapitating and shooting, include captive fighters, political opponents, and people ISIS accused of “spying,” “sorcery,” and “insulting God.”
The 41-page report, “‘We Feel We Are Cursed’: Life under ISIS in Sirte, Libya,” also finds that ISIS is inflicting severe hardship on the local population by diverting food, medicine, fuel, and cash, along with homes it seized from residents who fled, to fighters and functionaries it has amassed in the Mediterranean port city. As the de facto government in Sirte, ISIS has the duty to ensure that all residents are able to exercise their basic human rights, including the rights to food and health.
“As if beheading and shooting perceived enemies isn’t enough, ISIS is causing terrible suffering in Sirte even for Muslims who follow its rules,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher. “While the world’s attention is focused on atrocities in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is also getting away with murder in Libya.”
The 49 executions by ISIS in Sirte city and outlying areas that Human Rights Watch documented followed largely secret proceedings that negate the most basic fair-trial standards. ISIS also has kidnapped and disappeared dozens of Libyan militia fighters, many of whom are presumed dead, exiled Sirte city councilmen and fighters from groups opposing ISIS told Human Rights Watch.
The murder of civilians, or wounded or captive fighters, by members of a party to an armed conflict is a war crime, as is executing people without a fair trial by a regular court. The nature and scale of ISIS’s unlawful executions and other acts in Libya also may amount to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 45 former and current Sirte residents in March 2016, in Misrata, a coastal city 240 kilometers west of Sirte, as well as by telephone and email. They included relatives of people ISIS killed or detained, as well as exiled local officials and members of rival armed groups. Human Rights Watch also interviewed Misrata government and security officials and foreign-based Libya security analysts, among others, and crossed-checked information against sources including media reports and videos of ISIS acts in Sirte.
The Sirte residents described scenes of horror – public beheadings, corpses in orange jumpsuits hanging from scaffolding in what they referred to as “crucifixions,” and masked fighters snatching men from their beds in the night. They said morality police aided by informants patrolled the streets, threatening, fining, or flogging men for smoking, listening to music, or failing to ensure their wives and sisters were covered in loose black abayas, and hauling boys and men into mosques for prayer and religion classes.
(Source: Human Rights Watch)