Widespread arrests of sub-Saharan Africans by Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) have become a cause of concern for human rights organizations.

“It’s a dangerous time to be dark-skinned in Tripoli,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The NTC should stop arresting African migrants and black Libyans unless it has concrete evidence of criminal activity. It should also take immediate steps to protect them from violence and abuse.” After interviewing detainees, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that the majority of arrests were based on skin color, following from the fact that Muammar Gaddafi used sub-Saharan Africans as mercenaries. “The NTC has legitimate concerns about unlawful mercenaries and violent activity, but it can’t simply arrest dark-skinned men just in case they think they might be mercenaries,” Whitson said.

Amnesty International focused its study on the Tawargha tribe, in a town of the same name used as a Gaddafi stronghold. North Africa researcher Diana Eltahawy said there was no doubt that some Tawarghas fought alongside Gaddafi, “But anyone responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials; not dragged out of hospital beds on the assumption that all Tawarghas are ‘killers’ and ‘mercenaries’. The whole population should not have to suffer.”

The Human Rights Watch report, released September 1, said, “the sub-Saharan Africans were in overcrowded cells with a putrid stench; one cell had 26 people and six mattresses. The African men Human Rights Watch interviewed complained of inadequate water, poor sanitation, and not being allowed to make phone calls to ask family members to bring their documents.”

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