UNSMIL condemns indiscriminate attacks on civilian populated areas in Tripoli causing many civilian casualties
By Sami Zaptia.
London, 9 May 2020:
UNSMIL yesterday strongly condemned the increased attacks on civilian populated areas in Tripoli, including what it referred to as ”the appalling shelling” Thursday on Tripoli’s Zawiat al-Dahmani neighbourhood, near the Turkish embassy and the Italian ambassador’s residence, which reportedly killed at least two civilians and injured three others.
UNSMIL said it will continue to document violations to be shared, where relevant, with the Panel of Experts and the International Criminal Court.
It said that it is deeply alarmed by the intensification of indiscriminate attacks at a moment when Libyans deserve to peacefully observe the holy month of Ramadan and a time when they are battling the COVID-19 pandemic. These ”despicable actions” are a direct challenge to calls by some Libyan leaders for an end to the protracted fighting and for the resumption of the political dialogue, it added.
UNSMIL said that since 1 May, ”increasing indiscriminate attacks, mostly attributable to LNA-affiliated forces”, including on Abu Sleem, Tajoura, al-Hadba al-Badri, Znata and Zawit al-Dahmani have caused many civilians casualties, damage to homes and other civilian property. Between 1 and 8 May, at least 15 civilians were reported killed and 50 civilians injured, it confirmed.
It added that on 6 May, houses were shelled in Abu Sleem neighbourhood of Tripoli with at least one person reportedly killed and 27 individuals injured, including four children and five women. On the same day, rockets hit several homes in Tajoura and resulted in the reported killing of three individuals and injuring 10 others, including three children. On 5 May, shelling of houses in al-Hadba neighbourhood of Tripoli killed two civilians and injured three others, including a child, it added.
UNSMIL said that once again, these attacks display a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law and human rights law and may amount to war crimes. All parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law including complying with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attacks to prevent civilian casualties. It reiterated that those guilty of crimes under international law will be held to account.
It will be recalled that the EU had made a similar condemnation of the civilian bombings earlier. The escalation has come despite the declaration of a unilateral humanitarian Ramadan ceasefire by the Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) on 29 April.
It must, however, be pointed out that the internationally recognized Libyan government based in Tripoli rejected the unilateral LNA ceasefire and continued its fighting on several fronts. It insisted that Hafter’s LNA had a track record of violating previous ceasefires and called for international monitoring of any ceasefire as a precondition. Tripoli believes Hafter has offered the ceasefire as a tactical ploy in view of his setbacks on the battlefield in order to gain time to rearm.
It must also be noted that in its latest report to the UN Security Council last Tuesday (5 May), International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda reminded that military commanders can be held responsible for crimes committed by their forces and have a duty to prevent such crimes. She described Hafter’s LNA as a ‘‘militia’’.
Bensouda said she was concerned about the high number of civilian casualties from airstrikes and bombings. She said the ICC was analysing information on possible crimes under the Rome Statute such as the intentional attacks on civilian sites and issues of proportionality.
Meanwhile, UNSMIL had reported in its latest civilian casualties report up to 31 March at least 131 civilian casualties (64 deaths and 67 injuries) in Libya. This figure represents an overall increase in civilian casualties of 45 per cent compared to the preceding period in the fourth quarter of 2019, it added. It reported that ground fighting was the leading cause of civilian casualties, followed by targeted killings, airstrikes, and improvised explosive devices.