Human Rights Watch On Libya: 16 Civilians Killed in Derna Airstrikes

On Sunday November 5,  Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an article on the devastating air strikes that took place in Libya’s eastern city of Derna on October 30, 2017, which killed 16 civilians and critically wounded 4 children.

HRW noted that Operation Dignity has been considered as a possible suspect in the airstrike operation since Haftar had openly discussed his intentions to take over the rest of the Libyan territories; however Operation Dignity has denied any involvement in the attack in a televised statement, blaming “terrorists” and promising an investigation.

Operation Dignity, under the command of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, imposed a siege on Derna in August 2016 in an effort to drive out fighters from the militant alliance Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC). The DMSC, which opposes Operation Dignity, has controlled the city since participating in ousting ISIS in April 2016.

The director of Middle East and North Africa at HRW, Sarah Leah Whitson noted that, “an aircraft bombs a Libyan city and kills 16 civilians, yet none of the warring parties accepts responsibility for the attack or names the[ir] intended military target…Derna residents run the risk of repeat incidents unless authorities start making good on their promise to investigate and hold those responsible for unlawful attacks to account.”

Human Rights Watch spoke by phone on October 30 and 31 with Dr. Mansour Ben Fayed, the director of Derna’s main hospital, who said that the October 30 airstrikes hit two locations, one in the Al-Fatayeh neighborhood and the other in the rural area of Al-Arqam.

Read details of the accounts of Dr. Mansour Ben Fayed and Al-Bazouti  in HRW Article

Ben Fayed and Al-Bazouti said that the Al-Arqam area was not accessible for ambulances or other vehicles due to the siege, making it impossible to remove the three bodies there.

HRW said that previous airstrikes on Derna have not been investigated, alike the Joint airstrikes by Libyan and Egyptian forces on Derna in February 2015; which resulted in at least seven civilian casualties and damage to civilian structures. In February 2016, unidentified aircraft attacked a hospital in Derna, killing at least two civilians and damaging the hospital extensively. In May 2017, the Egyptian air force reportedly conducted airstrikes on Derna in retaliation for the killing of 28 Egyptian Christian Copts from Minya. The killings were later claimed by ISIS and no civilian casualties were reported.

‘International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, apply to all sides in the fighting in Libya. All attacks must be directed at military targets’ states HRW. ‘Deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian structures are prohibited. The laws of war further require that warring parties “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects’.

The HRW clarifies that the laws of war require all parties of the conflict to allow and facilitate the “rapid and unimpeded passage” of humanitarian aid to civilians at risk, including in areas under siege. They also require parties to the conflict to allow free passage for civilians who wish to leave these areas.Whitson said,“Warring factions should impartially investigate possible war crimes by their forces, and sadly, too many wartime deaths of civilians have simply been ignored.”

Serious violations of the laws of war, when committed with criminal intent, are war crimes. Those who commit, order, assist, or have commanded responsibility for war crimes are subject to prosecution by domestic courts or the International Criminal Court. The ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in Libya since February 15, 2011, under UN Security Council resolution 1970.  

Read ArraedLG’s exclusive opinion piece on how the Derna airstrikes, could find Haftar at the Hague.

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