Will NATO Talk to Civilian Victims of Its Airstrikes in Libya?March 20, 2012
In the aftermath of the NATO military campaign in Libya, a certain kind of triumphalism can be heard in the statements of NATO officials. There is no doubt that the government of Libya’s former dictator, Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, engaged in significant human rights violations against Libyan society.
But four months after the NATO military campaign, Libya still faces massive human rights challenges. From ongoing torture to a political system balkanized by rival militias, it is clear that the departure of a dictator does not guarantee the protection of human rights.
Indeed, NATO itself has not fulfilled its responsibility to the survivors of the conflict.
In our latest report, Amnesty International highlights the continued suffering of civilian victims of NATO airstrikes in Libya. As airstrike survivor Mustafa Naji al-Morabit told my colleagues during a research mission to Libya:
My family has been destroyed; I lost my two little boys and my wife, Ibtisam, who was also my best friend. It is really difficult to go on, to get up every day and face life; I tell myself that I must find the strength for my son, the only child I have left.
He can’t forget the horror of that day, when his mum and his little brothers were blown to bits. How can I help him to overcome this trauma? I myself can’t cope and there is no one to turn to. No one from NATO or from the authorities has got in touch to ask what happened or to offer any explanation or even one word of apology. We are living a miserable life; we have nothing left, our home and everything in it were destroyed.
As documented in our report, NATO has stated to the UN International Commission of Inquiry on Libya (ICIL) that the house was struck because it had been identified as “a senior regime commander’s command and control node located within a residential property.”
But after reviewing the site, interviewing witnesses, and looking at satellite images, the ICIL found that “evidence suggests NATO hit the wrong building (and) that those killed were civilians.” Our researchers also reached the same conclusions.
According to NATO, the seven-month military campaign included more than 9,700 strike sorties and destroyed over 5,900 military targets. As acknowledged in our report,
“NATO appears to have made significant efforts to minimize the risk of causing civilian casualties, including by its use of precision guided munitions, and in some cases by conducting strikes at night and issuing prior warnings to inhabitants of the areas targeted.”
But scores of Libyan civilians who did not directly participate in the conflict were killed as a result of the airstrikes, and many more were injured. In the four months since the end of the military campaign, NATO has yet to contact survivors or share information resulting from its investigations.
Nothing will bring Mustafa Naji al-Morabit’s wife and children back to life. But that doesn’t mean that that Mustafa and his remaining son should be left to live the “miserable life” that he describes. NATO officials have a duty to ensure that a prompt, independent, impartial, and thorough investigation is conducted. They also have a duty to investigate whether NATO participants in the conflict violated international humanitarian law in striking Mustafa’s home.
Finally, all victims of violations of international humanitarian law — and their families – must receive reparations. The air strikes campaign may be over, but for civilian victims, the suffering continues.
Sanjeev Bery serves as Advocacy Director for Middle East North Africa issues at Amnesty International USA. Follow him on Twitter @SanjeevBery and Facebook.