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27th Nov 2022

NGO says Nato under-reported civilian deaths in Libya

Nato has not disclosed the full extent of civilian causalities during its seven-month bombing campaign over Libya last year, says a report released on Monday (14 May) by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The campaigners found evidence that at least 72 people, including 20 women and 24 children, may have been unlawfully killed as Nato-guided missiles struck seven of eight alleged non-military targets.

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  • According to Nato, the compounds were a "staging base and military accommodation" for Gaddafi forces (Photo: Defence Images)

HRW found no evidence of any Libyan military activity at seven of the eight sites they investigated. One high-ranking Libyan officer was believed to be at the eighth site, where seven civilians died.

"Nato took important steps to minimize civilian casualties during the Libya campaign, but information and investigations are needed to explain why 72 civilians died," said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch and principal author of the report.

Nato officials argue the eight targets were all military but have not put forward any valid evidence, says HRW. The bombing campaign was mandated by the United Nations Security Council to protect civilians from attacks by security forces of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"Nato did everything possible to minimize risks to civilians, but in a complex military campaign, that risk can never be zero," said Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu in a statement.

But 34 people were killed in one incident alone as Nato bombs ripped through two family compounds in the rural village of Majer 160 km east of Tripoli.

A second, GBU-12 laser-guided bomb, landed near the family compounds as relatives and neighbours were retrieving the wounded and dragging away the dead. The GBU-12, which has an infrared system to guide the bomb to its target, killed 18.

According to Nato, the compounds were a "staging base and military accommodation" for Gaddafi forces.

HRW visited the Majer compounds four times, including the day following the raid. The campaigners found one military style t-shirt among the rubble of three houses.

"I’m wondering why they did this; why just our houses?" said Muammar al-Jarud, who lost his mother, sister, wife, and eight-month-old daughter.

"We'd accept it if we had tanks or military vehicles around, but we were completely civilians, and you can't just hit civilians," he told HRW.

While recognizing the Libyan military and locals could have removed evidence of Gadhafi forces at the sites, the report raises many questions over the lawfulness of the strikes says HRW.

The Commission of Inquiry appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) carried out separate investigations into other civilian causalities.

The Commission of Inquiry and HRW have made repeated requests for Nato on the specific incidents that led to the 72 causalities.

Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States all reportedly dropped ordinance throughout the campaign.

HRW sent letters to all eight states requesting detailed information into the sites under investigation. All referred the NGO back to Nato, except Italy, which did not reply at all.

International humanitarian law oblige governments to investigate allegations of serious violations and compensate victims of unlawful attacks.

"The overall care Nato took in the campaign is undermined by its refusal to examine the dozens of civilian deaths," Abrahams said. "This is needed to provide compensation for victims of wrongful attacks, and to learn from mistakes and minimize civilian casualties in future wars."

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