Report details U.S./NATO war crimes in Libya

A new report by a coalition of human rights groups in the Middle East presents exhaustively researched evidence of war crimes carried out in Libya by the United States and NATO during last year’s intervention.

Basing its work “primarily, and to the greatest extent possible, on information gathered firsthand,” the Independent Civil Society Fact-Finding Mission to Libya carried out “an independent and impartial analysis of all parties’ compliance with their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

In regards to the U.S./NATO military intervention, relevant international law includes the Geneva Conventions’ common Article 3, and the United Nations Charter, which provide for protection of civilians in armed combat and the territorial integrity of sovereign states, respectively.

The Mission found that “a significant percentage of the sites” targeted by NATO “were clearly civilian objects.”

Although NATO had claimed that these sites were converted into military objectives by Gaddafi forces, which in some cases may have used civilian sites as weapons storage or military communications facilities, the report notes that “site investigations conducted by the Mission failed to reveal any traces of weapons, munitions, military or communications equipment, or secondary explosions, other than the remnants of the ordinance used in the destruction of the site.”

Acknowledging that the sites may have been cleaned in the months since the strikes, the Mission “regards it as implausible that all Libyan military debris was cleared, particularly in light of the presence of fragments of NATO ordinance.”

While NATO and Libyan rebel forces regularly claimed that the airstrikes resulted in zero civilian casualties based on the fact that advance warnings were given before bombing, “the Mission finds it difficult to believe that such strikes – which often completely destroyed multi-story buildings – consistently resulted in zero casualties.”

The fact-finding mission also explored questions concerning Security Council Resolution 1973, which purportedly authorized the U.S./NATO intervention in Libya. While the resolution provided authorization to states “to take all necessary measures […] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” the Mission noted that “debate exists regarding the precise meaning of the term ‘all necessary measures’.”

“From first-hand information available to the Mission,” the report states, “it appears that NATO participated in what could be classified as offensive actions undertaken by the opposition forces, including, for example, attacks on towns and cities held by Gaddafi forces.”

Further, “the choice of certain targets, such as a regional food warehouse, raise prima facie questions regarding the role of such attacks with respect to the protection of civilians.”

The report also documents systematic murder, torture, expulsion and abuse of suspected Gaddafi loyalists by the NATO-backed rebel forces of the National Transitional Council. It details the forced expulsion of the mostly black-skinned inhabitants of Tawergha and the persecution of sub-Saharan migrant workers by forces allied to the NTC and its transitional government.

With NATO having ended its intervention in Libya last October, claiming that “the Alliance’s job to protect civilians from attack or the threat of attack in Libya had been done,” it appears that attacks on civilians by the NATO-backed forces continue to take place.

The situation has gotten so bad that the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders is suspending its mission in the prisons of the Libyan city of Misrata, claiming detainees are being routinely tortured and denied medical attention.

The organization has treated a total of 115 detainees who had been tortured and reported all such cases to Misrata authorities demanding an immediate stop to any form of ill treatment of prisoners. But nothing has changed.

“No concrete action has been taken,” said the organization’s general director Christopher Stokes. “Instead, our team received four new torture cases. We have therefore come to the decision to suspend our medical activities in the detention centers.”

As this blog noted last April, just a couple weeks into the Western intervention in Libya, “as we have seen in Iraq, when an intervention is launched in violation of international law, human rights violations tend to proliferate.”

With the new report by the Independent Civil Society Fact-Finding Mission to Libya, it is now clear how prescient those words were.

Massive protests are planned against a NATO-G8 Summit to be held this May in Chicago. To get involved, visit the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda website.

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