Rebels fighting to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi committed unlawful killings and torture, Amnesty International said in a report released on Tuesday.
The 100-plus page report, based on three months of investigation in Libya, draws no equivalency between the crimes of Gadhafi loyalists and those of the former rebels, who now hold power in Tripoli: The Gadhafi forces' crimes were greater, the list of them is longer, and they may have amounted to crimes against humanity, the report said.
But it said the crimes of the rebels were not insignificant.
"Members and supporters of the opposition, loosely structured under the leadership of the National Transitional Council (NTC) ... have also committed human rights abuses, in some cases amounting to war crimes, albeit on a smaller scale," the Amnesty report said.
It said opposition supporters "unlawfully killed" more than a dozen Gadhafi loyalists and security officials between April and early July. And just after the rebels took control of eastern Libya, the report said, angry groups of rebel supporters "shot, hanged and otherwise killed through lynching" dozens of captured soldiers and suspected mercenaries, with impunity.
Mohammed al-Alagi, justice minister for Libya's transitional authorities, said that describing the rebels' actions as war crimes is wrong.
"They are not the military, they are only ordinary people," al-Alagi said. While he aknowledged that rebels have made mistakes, he said they cannot be described as "war crimes at all."
In addition, the report said both sides stirred up racism and xenophobia, causing sub-Saharan Africans to be increasingly attacked, robbed and abused by ordinary Libyans.
"In February, there was this rumor about Gadhafi using black people as mercenaries; that's wrong," Nicolas Beger, director of the Amnesty International European Institutions office, told Associated Press Television News in Brussels on Monday. "But the NTC has not done a lot to curb that rumor and now there is a lot of retaliation against sub-Saharan Africans. Whether they were or they weren't involved with the Gadhafi forces, they are at real risk of being taken from their work or their homes or the street to be tortured or killed."
Beger also said abuses were continuing under the new government.
"We have even spoken to guards who admit that they use force," he said. "They say, 'Yeah we use force in order to get confessions, in order to force people to hand in their weapons.' So this really needs to be controlled. This is one of the priorities that the new authorities have to really get a clear act on."
The report also listed an extensive list of crimes allegedly committed by Gadhafi's regime. The loyalists killed and injured scores of unarmed protesters, made critics disappear, used illegal cluster bombs, launched artillery, mortar and rocket attacks against residential areas, and, without any legal proceedings, executed captives, the report said.
Thousands of Libyans were kidnapped from their homes, mosques and streets, including children as young as 12, the report said.
The Amnesty International report was based on a fact-finding visit to Libya between Feb. 26 and May 28, and covered events up to late July. The organization is based in Britain.
Mark D. Carlson contributed to this report. Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin