Libya: civilians must be protected as fighting escalates
All parties to conflict have ‘appalling’ human rights records
Particular concerns for 1,300 migrants in detention centres in Qasr Ben Gashir and Ain Zara
Fears of further civilian bloodshed are growing as clashes on the outskirts of Tripoli between forces from the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, under General Khalifa Haftar’s command, and militias aligned with Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord, escalate.
According to the Tripoli-based Health Ministry, at least 25 people have been killed and 80 injured since the offensive by General Haftar to take over Tripoli was launched on 4 April. At least four of those killed were civilians, including two medical workers, according to the UN.
Both the Libyan National Army and government-aligned militias in western Libya have appalling human rights records and a history of flagrantly flouting international law and committing war crimes, including by carrying out indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, abductions, torture and extrajudicial executions.
Video footage posted on social media shows fighters using a Multiple Launch Rocket System, which fires unguided and inaccurate rockets and should not be used in densely-populated areas because of the high risk they will kill or injure civilians. Flights from Tripoli’s Mitiga airport have been suspended after an airstrike by Libyan National Army forces.
The International Organisation for Migration has warned that some 2,800 people have been displaced by the fighting so far, and that in some areas civilians have been unable to leave due to intensity of the clashes. Many are cut off from emergency services. Calls for a truce to evacuate wounded people and civilians in certain areas were ignored.
Some of the fighting is also in close proximity to immigration detention centres in Qasr Ben Gashir and Ain Zara, where around 1,300 refugees and migrants are being held.
Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Middle East Deputy Director, said:
“The escalation of violence on the outskirts of Tripoli is deeply alarming - there are fears that the civilian death toll will rise rapidly as the fighting intensifies and spreads into more densely populated parts of the city.
“All parties to the conflict have an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians. They must distinguish between civilians and combatants at all times, and the targeting of civilians, medical workers and health facilities are absolutely prohibited.
“Explosive weapons with wide-area effects, including artillery and mortars, must never be used in the vicinity of concentrations of civilians.
“Any civilians that wish to leave the area should be allowed to do so freely without coming under attack.
“Refugees and migrants detained in Libya are already extremely vulnerable and suffer horrendous abuse at the hands of detaining authorities and smugglers. There are real concerns for their safety and their humanitarian situation if the clashes intensify, with reports of some being left locked up without food or water, in inhuman conditions.”