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Libya: new evidence of possible war crimes during Haftar's Tripoli offensive

Satellite image showing destruction of buildings in Abu Salim residential area in Tripoli © DigitalGlobe Inc

Three residential districts of Tripoli hit by indiscriminate rocket salvoes, with at least five civilians killed

Tajoura migrant detention centre subjected to attacks on 7 and 10 May, while migrants in separate centre shot and injured for refusing to halt Easter prayer service 

‘The warring parties have displayed a shameful disregard for civilian safety’ - Magdalena Mughrabi

Amnesty International has revealed new evidence of indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas in Tripoli during General Haftar’s forces’ offensive on the Libyan capital, with some of the unlawful attacks likely to amount to war crimes

Witness testimony and satellite imagery indicate that heavily-populated residential areas in Tripoli’s southern Abu Salim district were indiscriminately attacked with rockets during intense fighting during 15-17 April. Amnesty has also documented attacks that placed the lives of hundreds of refugees and migrants at risk.

During 15-17 April, three areas within the Abu Salim district - Hay al-Intissar, Hay Salaheddin and a neighbourhood known as the Kikla Buildings - were struck by inaccurate weapons launched by attackers who failed to take precautions to protect civilian lives.

On the night of 16 April, residents reported a number of rocket attacks in Hay al-Intissar. One eyewitness said five rockets struck five different homes - killing four women and one man, and injuring a young girl. The girl was taken to hospital in a critical condition, but survived.

Amnesty’s analysis of satellite imagery of Abu Salim between 13-17 April confirms damage inflicted on two densely built-up sites, as well as damage in the nearby residential area of Hay Salaheddin. From satellite imagery, eyewitness accounts and reports from other credible sources, Amnesty could see no military bases or checkpoints nearby and found no evidence suggesting a military target was located in either of the residential areas at the time of the attacks.

The area is controlled by the Abu Salim Central Security Forces, a militia affiliated with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). But eyewitnesses said no fighters were present in the area. One witness said all the GNA-affiliated fighters had left the area to go to the frontlines, adding “Hay al-Intissar is a strictly residential area. There were families and children minding their own business.”

The Kikla Buildings, a large residential complex south of Hay Salahaddin, about a mile away from Hay al-Intissar, was attacked on 15 April. According to eyewitnesses, a rocket hit a construction company adjacent to the residential complex. Another rocket hit a third-floor apartment in one of the residential buildings, wounding at least two individuals.

Amnesty independently verified and analysed multiple photos of the scene of the attack, and identified ordnance fragment damage to a civilian home and scrap consistent with rocket artillery, including 122mm GRAD-style rockets. Based on its analysis of satellite imagery, as well as three interviews with residents, Amnesty found no visible evidence that a military target was located in the Kikla Buildings at the time of these attacks. In addition, Amnesty verified and geo-located videos and photos published on social media showing damage to civilian homes and a mosque, ambulances and school facilities.

Haftar’s forces blamed by residents

Amnesty could not conclusively determine which group carried out the 15-17 April attacks, and GNA forces and those of General Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) have traded blame for them. However, all Abu Salim residents interviewed believed forces affiliated with the LNA were responsible. Photos reviewed by Amnesty confirm that the LNA and GNA’s arsenal both include 107mm rockets and GRAD launchers. Two images published on social media show an LNA fighter posing in front of BM-21 GRAD launchers. Both of these types of weapons are unguided and inaccurate, and should not be used in civilian areas in salvoes, where many rockets are fired at once making it impossible to distinguish between military and civilian targets.

Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:

“As the battle for Tripoli unfolds, the warring parties have displayed a shameful disregard for civilian safety and international humanitarian law by carrying out indiscriminate attacks on residential neighbourhoods.

“Such reckless attacks could have devastating consequences for civilians and strengthen the need for the International Criminal Court to expand its investigations into possible war crimes by all sides in Libya’s conflict.

“The relentless cycle of mounting abuses means the need is greater than ever for states to fully implement the UN arms embargo on Libya. A meaningful accountability system must be set up to investigate serious violations of international humanitarian law by all warring parties and hold those responsible to account.”

Attack on Tajoura migrant detention centre

On the night of 7 May, an airstrike hit approximately 100 yards from the Tajoura migrant detention centre, in eastern Tripoli, where some 500 migrants and refugees were being detained in disused airplane hangars. Eyewitnesses described the “terrifying” sound of the attack saying it caused some detainees to faint.

According to UNHCR, two people were injured in the attack. Médecins Sans Frontières said heavy metal debris from the strike tore through the roof of one of the hangars where women are detained and narrowly avoided striking an infant.

Eyewitness accounts and satellite imagery analysed by Amnesty suggest the airstrike hit an armoured vehicle next to a warehouse facility - which detainees said is used to store weapons - located within the same compound as the immigration detention centre. The images also show many armoured vehicles in the area, suggesting fighters are using the compound as a military complex.

The airstrike is consistent with a pattern of night-time airstrikes conducted by LNA drones, operated by the UAE and utilising Chinese-manufactured Wing Loong aircraft firing Blue Arrow 7 missiles.

Meanwhile, two detainees at Tajoura detention centre told Amnesty they were forced to engage in conflict-related activities such as loading and unloading guns, and cleaning heavy machine guns, against their will. Just days later, on 10 May, another airstrike hit the vicinity of the detention centre, three detainees told Amnesty.

In a separate incident, eyewitnesses told Amnesty that on 23 April armed men opened fire on migrants and refugees held at the Qasr Ben Ghashir detention centre, south of Tripoli. According to the UN Refugee Agency, at least 12 people were injured and taken to hospital. Eyewitnesses said up to 15 men entered the centre, confiscated detainees’ phones and ordered a group of Christian detainees carrying out Easter prayers to stop. They began to shoot when the detainees refused. Evidence gathered by UNHCR suggests LNA-affiliated fighters were responsible for the attack, which took place in an area under their control.

Rising civilian death toll

Since General Haftar’s forces’ advance on Tripoli began, more than 454 people have been killed and 2,154 injured, according to the World Health Organisation. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has confirmed at least 23 civilian deaths, with fears that the civilian death toll will rise. Medical workers are amongst the dead and injured.

Approximately 70,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting. A volunteer at a makeshift shelter for displaced people in a school in Fornaj, southeast of Tripoli, said some of those displaced had seen the homes they rebuilt following the 2011 conflict destroyed once again. The humanitarian situation has also deteriorated, with frequent power cuts being reported and a shortage of hospital medical supplies.

In addition to violations committed during the conduct of hostilities the UN has reported an increase in arbitrary detention, abductions, kidnapping and enforced disappearance since the outbreak of fighting in and around Tripoli.

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