Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi committed war crimes and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity during the Libyan conflict, but some rebel fighters also engaged in abuses and a "settling of scores," Amnesty International says in a new report.
The 107-page report, based on three months of investigation in the North African nation, found evidence of abuse perpetrated by both sides.
Gadhafi loyalists committed "serious violations" of international humanitarian law, the report says, including torture, execution and using excessive force against anti-regime protesters.
Loyalist forces 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 says.
Thousands of Libyans were kidnapped from their homes, mosques and streets, including children as young as 12, the report says.
Libyan opposition accused of abuses
Amnesty says members of the "loosely structured" anti-Gadhafi forces also committed human rights abuses. The report says some rebel abuses amount to war crimes "albeit on a smaller scale."
The report notes that opposition supporters targeted Gadhafi loyalists and some former members of the country's security forces.
"They also tortured and ill-treated captured soldiers, suspected 'mercenaries' and other alleged Gadhafi loyalists," according to the report.
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 told The Associated Press. While he acknowledged that rebels have made mistakes, he said they cannot be described as "war crimes at all."
The rights group urged Libya's transitional council to "get a grip" on armed anti-Gadhafi forces and ensure that reprisal attacks and arbitrary arrests are stopped.
Amnesty warned that abuses could continue as fighting continues in some areas, including Bani Walid, one of Gadhafi's few remaining strongholds.
"The new authorities must make a complete break with the abuses of the past four decades and set new standards by putting human rights at the centre of their agenda” said Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty International.
Cordone said the onus is now on transitional leaders to end abuses and "initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed."
He urged leaders to investigate the alleged abuses committed by both sides with a view to "fair trials" that respect international standards.
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.