Civilians targeted in Libya

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5 September 2014 – In the three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been in a state of civil war. As the conflict rages, serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are taking place in the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi according a recent UN report.

These violations herald dire consequences for civilians and civilian infrastructure in the country. Casualties including women, children and foreign nationals are endemic as abuses such as indiscriminate shelling and attacks on civilian objects, the shelling of hospitals, the abduction of civilians, torture and unlawful killings take place.

FlickrBRQ Network2.0 Generic CC BY 2.0 The joint report by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office states that fighters appear to disregard the likely impact of their action on civilians and have inadequate training and discipline. In addition, the use of badly maintained and faulty weapons and ammunition increases inaccuracy. These factors suggest that many attacks carried out in Tripoli and Benghazi are indiscriminate.

The report states that, “Protection of civilians must be a priority,” and “All armed groups must comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack.” Furthermore the report urges all armed groups to release or hand over to the justice system individuals who they have detained. It also stresses that the lack of compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law by one party does not absolve other parties from their obligations to comply with these standards.

The report further underlines, “Political or military leaders can be held criminally responsible not only if they order crimes, but also if they are in a position to stop them and do not do so.” Between mid-May and the end of August, which is the period covered by the report, dozens of civilians were reportedly abducted in Tripoli and Benghazi solely for their actual or suspected tribal, family or religious affiliation, and have remained missing since the time of their abduction. Such abductions may amount to enforced disappearances if the parties to the conflict do not acknowledge their whereabouts, the report states.

Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are particularly exposed in the current context and are facing difficulties in crossing borders. The report also notes the continued harassment of and attacks against journalists by all parties to the conflict, including restrictions of movement, confiscation of equipment, abductions and assassinations.

UNRIC's related links:

UNRIC's backgrounder on Libya
UNRIC's backgrounder on Human Rights
UNRIC's backgrounder on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict