staff and news service reports
updated 8/30/2011 3:13:56 PM ET 2011-08-30T19:13:56

Both sides in Libya's ongoing civil war are being accused of abuses, with forces loyal to fallen leader Moammar Gadhafi blamed for a vast array of possible war crimes and rebels said to be indiscriminately targeting black people.

Pro-Gadhafi troops perched children on tanks to deter NATO attacks, human rights investigators said in a report on Tuesday. It was part of a pattern of rapes, slayings, "disappearances" and other war crimes that they said they found.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights, titled "Witness to War Crimes: Evidence from Misrata, Libya," is based on interviews of residents in the embattled city of Misrata conducted in June.

A popular uprising in Libya in February against Gadhafi's 42-year-old rule resulted in a civil war with rebels backed by a NATO bombing campaign from the air starting in March.

"Four eyewitnesses reported that (Gadhafi) troops forcibly detained 107 civilians and used them as human shields to guard military munitions from NATO attacks south of Misrata," said the PHR report.

"One father told PHR how (Gadhafi) soldiers forced his two young children to sit on a military tank and threatened the family: 'You'll stay here, and if NATO attacks us, you'll die, too.'"

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"The abuses that we gathered evidence of in Misrata are some of the most egregious war crimes and crimes against humanity I've heard of in Libya," said Richard Sollom, deputy director of PHR and author of the report.

With fears running high that the battle for control over the Gadhafi stronghold Sirte would result in a bloodbath, NATO's Col. Roland Lavoie said Tuesday that the warring sides were engaged in "discussions."

Separately, on Monday, Algeria's state news agency reported that members of Gadhafi's family entered the country .

In a surprise twist, Al Arabiya reported Tuesday that Algerian authorities announced that Gadhafi's daughter Aisha had given birth after arriving in the country.

"Aisha gave birth very early this morning. She had a little girl. Mother and daughter are doing fine," an unnamed government official reportedly told the news channel.

In Tripoli, a rebel spokesman said on Tuesday they now have "a good idea" where the Libyan dictator is hiding. Gadhafi, who the rebels fear will continue to stoke violence throughout the country, is thought to have fled Tripoli last week.

Ali Tarhouni, a minister in the National Transitional Council, told reporters Tuesday that "we have a good idea where he is. We don't have any doubt that we will catch him."

'All blacks are mercenaries'?
Meanwhile, the chairman of the African Union said Libyan rebels may be indiscriminately killing black people because they have confused innocent migrant workers with mercenaries.

AU chairman Jean Ping cited these fears as one reason the continental body has not recognized opposition forces as Libya's interim government.

Video: Manhunt for Gadhafi continues (on this page)

"NTC [the rebel National Transitional Council] seems to confuse black people with mercenaries. All blacks are mercenaries," Ping said Monday. "If you do that, it means (that the) one-third of the population of Libya, which is black, is also mercenaries. They are killing people, normal workers, mistreating them."

He added: "Maybe it's looters, uncontrolled forces. But then the government should say something, condemn this. We want to see a signal that the African workers that are there, they should be evacuated."

Ping's comments follow concerns from international rights groups about beatings and detentions of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

"I really fear vigilante justice and retribution and attacks by civilians against other civilians," said PHR's Sollom said.

However, Sollom said that while both sides had committed abuses, evidence indicated that crimes by pro-Gadhafi forces were much more widespread.

"There has been some evidence of crimes committed by rebel forces, but certainly nothing anywhere near as widespread and systematic as those committed by Gadhafi's forces," he said.

Rape as weapon of war
PHR obtained copies of military orders as evidence that Gadhafi ordered his troops to starve civilians in Misrata, while pillaging food caches and barring locals from receiving humanitarian aid.

Video: Tripoli residents face grim task of burying the dead (on this page)

Misrata was liberated by rebels in May after a fierce three-month battle, and they now control most of the country.

Rape was also "a weapon of war," Sollom told the Associated Press. While he said no one has evidence to prove that rape was widespread, the fear of it certainly was, he said.

And it had deadly consequences in the form of "honor killings" of rape victims by their shamed family members.

Slideshow: Conflict in Libya (on this page)

"One witness reported that (Gadhafi) forces transformed an elementary school into a detention site where they reportedly raped women and girls as young as 14 years old," the report said. It added that it had found no evidence to confirm or deny reports that Gadhafi troops and loyalists were issued Viagra-type drugs to sustain their systematic rapes.

The school where the rapes were said to have taken place was in Tomina, near Misrata, PHR said.

In at least one instance, PHR reported, three sisters — ages 15, 17 and 18 — were raped at Tomina, and their father subsequently slit their throats as an "honor killing" to lift the shame from his family.

PHR also noted that "some in Tomina have stood up against this practice, including a well-known sheik who has publicly advocated for raped women and girls to be seen as brave and bringing honor to their families."

A single act can be deemed a war crime, but when troops commit "systematic and widespread" crimes against civilians, that is a crime against humanity, Sollom said.

As evidence of one such crime, the report includes a copy of a government order for troops to prevent fuel and supplies reaching the city of some 400,000 to 500,000 people.

Reuters, The Associated Press and staff contributed to this report.

Video: Manhunt for Gadhafi continues

  1. Closed captioning of: Manhunt for Gadhafi continues

    >>> switching now to news from overseas. we have no idea where gadhafi is. while he's no longer in charge in libya, there's a huge search for him under way and as they go about the search, they're discovering more about how lavish a lifestyle he maintained. stephanie gosk has the report from tripoli .

    >> reporter: tripoli is theirs but as long as moammar gadhafi is on the run, a bells say the fight is not over. he has save havens and loyal followers. despite the $1 million bounty. the head of libya's interim council warned the city of gadhafi 's hometown to surrender by saturday or face attack. we will decide this matter militarily, he says. we don't wish to do so but we cannot wait longer. but where is gadhafi ? maybe dead, some say, or already out of the country. some family members have escaped, his wife and three grown children fled to neighboring algeria on monday. nine months pregnant iasha had a baby on the run. her house, looted and heavily damaged but the trappings of a luxury lifestyle plain to see. an yin door pool. massive dining room table still set for dinner. expensive clothes. this apulence is on display publicly for the first time, fueling the anger that average libyans feel towards the gadhafi family. but most believe gadhafi will stay and fight. he gave a now "infamous speech." saying he would hunt street to street and house to house for those that betrayed him. six months later the rebels are returning the favor. stephanie gosk, nbc news, tripoli .

Photos: Daily life in Libya's rebellion

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  1. A rebel stands on the infamous "Hand of Gadhafi" monument in the Bab Al-Azizya compound a day after numerous rebel brigades defeated Gadhafi loyalists for control of the massive military and government center, on Aug. 25, in Tripoli, Libya.

    Photojournalist Benjamin Lowy describes the scene: After breakfast our driver showed up in his white PT Cruiser and five journalists including me stuffed ourselves in. Drivers and translators are difficult to come by, so we all pooled resources and used one car.

    The first stop of the day was Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziyia compound - home to the infamous "hand crushing the plane" statue. It seems like every day some of the thousands of rebels pouring into Tripoli take their turn to pose with it and spray unrelenting celebratory gunfire in the air. The rebels have been doing that for months - shooting in the air and yelling "Allah-O-Akbar." They don't seem to understand firing discipline or the fact that what comes up, must come down. I would love to see some figures, in later years, of how many civilians and rebels were killed, not by Gadhafi, but by themselves, and in happiness. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Libyan rebels cringe as their position comes under fire from Gadhafi loyalist forces in the Buslim neighborhood. (Editor's note: These images were taken with a smart phone using an app that applies filters to the photography)

    Photographer's view: Our little crew decided to make our way through the southern gate of the compound and came across a massing of rebels trying to clear the Buslim neighborhood - an area known to be pro-Gadhafi. In fact, green flags still flew on most buildings and most of the buildings were painted white and green.

    Several gun battles ensued over the course of the morning as we pushed forward and fled with the rebel who were taking sniper fire, returning it. Eventually we walked back to our starting point at the roundabout at the southern gate of the Gadhafi compound. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
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    The bodies of four recently killed pro-Gadhafi loyalists lie in an abandoned medical encampment near the south entrance of the Bab al-Aziziya compound Aug. 25, in Tripoli, Libya.

    Photographer's view: It was here that we came across dozens of bodies - at least 30 - of Gadhafi loyalist soldiers. But they weren't killed in the heat of battle. Nineteen of the bodies were in a makeshift combat hospital, the others were laid out on a grassy traffic island.

    On closer inspection though, we could see that these soldiers hands were zip-tied, basically handcuffed. Their bodies were riddled with bullets. It begs the question - are the rebels now the ones committing war crimes? Did they arrest and then execute these men? Is this retribution? Probably. Is it racism, since most of these bodies were black Africans, and the rebels - North Africans and brown- skinned - think that they are all mercenaries. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Rebel forces run for cover after coming under small arms fire while clearing the dangerous and pro-Gadhafi Abu Salim neighborhood.

    Photographer's view: A rumor began to circulate on the wires that the rebels had surrounded a building where Gadhafi and his sons were holding up. We felt forced to investigate. Even though it was unlikely, it's not a picture or story to miss.

    We all jumped on the back of a rebel vehicle - essentially embedding ourselves. We didn't want to risk the life of our driver, especially since his beloved PT Cruiser took one for the team and had the windshield shattered and the chassis dented by an erratically driven rebel technical. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Libyan fires his weapon at a building housing a Gadhafi loyalist sniper in the dangerous Abu Salim neighborhood on Aug. 25, in Tripoli, Libya.

    Photographer's view: The rebels, and our own two feet, eventually took us to the Abu Salim neighborhood. It is possibly the last holdout of diehard Gadhafi forces.

    It was brutal. For four hours the streets of this gated apartment complex were lit up with seemingly every type of ammunition. Small arms fire from pistols and AK-47s whittled away at building facades. Machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, RPGs and mortars were used to rout out suspected snipers. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Suspected Gadhafi loyalist soldiers are pulled from apartments and lined up against a wall in the Abu Salim neighborhood by rebel forces on August 25 in Tripoli, Libya.

    Photographer's view: Prisoners were taken. Most seem to be black Africans, and a few Libyans. I was scared, as I watched the rebels violently arrest these men and throw them in the back of a pickup truck, that as soon as they were out of our view, they would be executed.

    Incoming sniper fire from a nearby building forced us to take cover. The untrained rebels released what I call the "death blossom" of firing in 360 degrees at pretty much everything. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Walid Barui, 25, breaks his Ramadan fast with a cup of water as a building burns behind him in the still violent neighborhood of Abu Salim. Baruni took up his gun and joined the revolution weeks ago, initially reluctant since he takes care of his elderly parents. He trained in the Nalut Mountains and was part of the rebel advance that swept into Tripoli. He said his parents "couldn't be prouder" with his choice to join the rebellion. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A Libyan rebel helps wheel out the body of his deceased comrade from a hospital morgue. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A Libyan rebel rips a poster of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi from the lobby of an apartment block.

    Photographer's view: Will finding Gadhafi stop this violence? Will people dance in the streets, will shops open again? More than likely yes. But now pretty much every male in Tripoli - even teens - have some sort of firearm. There will be divisions in the rebel camp, in the National Transitional Council, as they try to shape a new country. And right now, divisions are settled by war. (Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for Back to slideshow navigation
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  2. Editor's note:
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  1. Image:
    Benjamin Lowy / Reportage by Getty Images for
    Above: Slideshow (9) Daily life in Libya’s rebellion
  2. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
    Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya
    AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years


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