Human Rights Report on Civilian Casualties - May 2018
Tunis, 1 June 2018 – From 1 May to 31 May 2018, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented 101 civilian casualties –47 deaths and 54 injuries – during the conduct of hostilities, including car and suicide bombings, across Libya. The death toll is the highest recorded by UNSMIL for any month in 2018. Victims included 38 men, three women, four boys and two girls killed and 43 men, three women, six boys and three girls injured.
The majority of civilian casualties were caused by shelling (10 deaths and 17 injuries), followed by vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED, 11 deaths and six injuries), unidentified explosives (seven deaths and seven injuries), airstrikes (11 injuries), followed by gunfire (four deaths and four injuries), explosive remnants of war (ERW, one death and three injuries). The exact causes of death or injury could not be established in another 19 cases.
UNSMIL documented civilian casualties in Derna (17 killed and 22 injured), Tripoli (13 killed and six injured), Benghazi (11 killed and 9 injured), Kufra (11 injured), Sabha (five killed and four injured) and al-Zawiya (one killed and two injured).
UNSMIL documented 46 additional casualties from other possible violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of international human rights law in Beni Walid, Benghazi, Tripoli and Sabha.
Civilian Casualty Incidents
On 2 May, a Dae’esh-claimed attack on the High National Election Commission (HNEC) headquarters in the Gorgi neighbourhood of Tripoli involving the use of gunfire and explosives left at least 12 men and a woman dead and another six men injured. Victims included HNEC employees.
Armed clashes in Sabha between forces affiliated with the Awlad Suleiman tribe, including the 6th Brigade armed group, and those affiliated with the Tebu tribal forces left five civilians dead and another four injured. Casualties mainly occurred as a result of the use of mortar shells in densely populated areas, as well as sniper fire targeting civilians. On 5 May, a woman was killed by mortar fire in al-Qorda area. On 6 May, a man was shot dead by suspected sniper fire outside the entrance of Sabha Medical Centre. On the same day, two brothers were killed, and their parents injured when a mortar shell hit their house in the area of Hajara. Another boy was also killed in the incident. Also, on 6 May, two men were injured in the shelling of the Thanawiya area.
On 5 May, two boys under 12 were injured by an ERW in Bouatni neighbourhood, while on 6 May, a man sustained an injured when an ERW detonated in Sidi Khalifa. ERWs and other unknown explosives continued to claim civilian casualties in Benghazi. On 24 May, a VBIED exploded in a densely populated neighborhood of Benghazi, killing 11 civilians including a baby girl and injuring another six men.
On 15 May, 11 Eritreans were injured when the vehicle transporting them near the Libyan-Egyptian border was hit by airstrikes by unidentified air assets.
On 16 May, a woman died and another woman was injured in crossfire during clashes between al-Far and al-Henish armed groups in al-Zawiya. On the same day, a man sustained a gunshot wound during armed clashes between another two al-Zawiya families.
The escalation of fighting in Derna between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Derna Protection Force (DPF), previously known as Derna Mujahidin Shura Council) resulted in at least 17 deaths and 22 injuries among civilians. Most civilian casualties were caused by the use of indiscriminate fire and unguided weapons such as artillery and mortars as the LNA increasingly began to shell densely populated residential areas. The presence of DPF fighters in some residential areas further endangered civilians, while restrictions on the freedom of movement imposed by the LNA further hampered the ability of civilians to flee areas of active conflict.
Civilian casualties included an 11-year-old boy who sustained shrapnel injuries to the face in the shelling of the Ghazi neighbourhood on 16 May. On 18 May, a 5-year-old boy was injured in the chest while playing outside his home in the area of al-Fataeh. On 22 May, three men sustained shrapnel injuries in the shelling of the neighbourhood of al-Sahel al-Gharbi. On 25 May, a 12-year-old boy died from a shrapnel wound. He was hit while inside the grounds of the mosque in the Sahel al-Sharki area. On 27 May, a 53-year-old man was killed when his house in al-Fataeh was hit by shells. On 28 May, two men were killed, and another three men, a woman and two boys injured in the shelling of several residential areas including al-Sahel al-Sharki, Bab Shiha and Sayeda Aisha. On 29 May, a girl-child sustained a fatal gunshot wound while standing in front of her house in the al-Sahel al-Sharki area.
On 29 May, access for civilians fleeing Derna had improved via the Kirsa checkpoint. On 30 May, seven men were killed and another seven injured when an unknown explosive detonated near the western entrance of Derna as local families gathered in their vehicles seeking passage out of Derna through the Kirsa checkpoint to areas under LNA control.
The shelling of Derna has caused damage to schools, mosques and private homes with the area of Sahel al-Sharki being the most affected. Part of the desalination plant was also damaged in shelling on 28 May impacting water supply. Fighting also led to damage to the power supply.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on the HNEC headquarters on 2 May through the “Amaq News Agency”. No party claimed responsibility for the VBIED attack on Benghazi on 24 May, however the attack was branded as terrorist by Libyan authorities. Most civilian casualties inside Derna were caused by LNA use of indiscriminate fire and unguided weapons.
UNSMIL was unable to determine with certainty which parties to the conflict had caused the other civilian casualties in May.
Casualties from other violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights
On 5 May, a man was injured by a stray bullet in al-Majori neighborhood of Benghazi. There were no clashes in the vicinity at the time of the incident.
On 8 May, the body of a Sudanese national was brought to the Sabha Medical centre bearing torture marks.
On 9 May, an 18-year-old woman and 33 year-old-man were shot dead in two separate incidents in Sabha. There were no armed hostilities at the time.
On 24 May, members of the Bab Tajoura armed group shot dead two men in the Tripoli neighbourhood of Ras Hassan during a demonstration by local residents in front of the armed group’s base. The protest was linked to alleged human rights violations by the armed group including arbitrary detention and excessive use of force.
On 25 May, human traffickers in Bani Walid chased and shot migrants and refugees seeking to escape their captivity, leading to some 15 deaths and 25 injuries.
The figures for civilian casualties set out above only include persons killed or injured in the course of hostilities and who were not directly participating in the hostilities. The figures do not include those casualties that are not a direct result of hostilities, for example executions after capture, torture or abductions, or casualties caused as an indirect consequence of hostilities. The figures are based on information UNSMIL has gathered and cross-checked from a broad range of sources in Libya, including human rights defenders, civil society, current and former officials, employees of local governments, community leaders and members, witnesses, others directly affected and media reports. In order to assess the credibility of information obtained, where possible, UNSMIL reviewed documentary information, including medical records, forensic reports and photographic evidence.
The figures are only those that UNSMIL was able to document in the reporting period. They are not likely to be complete and may change as new information emerges about incidents involving civilian casualties that took place during this period.
Similarly, while UNSMIL has systematically tried to ensure that the cases it documented are based on credible information, further verification would be required to attain a higher standard of proof. Due to the security situation, UNSMIL has not been able to carry out direct site visits to all relevant locations in Libya to obtain information. Fear of reprisals against sources further hamper information gathering.
While not all actions leading to civilian casualties breach international humanitarian law, UNSMIL reminds all parties to the conflict that they are under an obligation to target only military objectives. Direct attacks on civilians as well as indiscriminate attacks – which do not distinguish between civilians and fighters – are prohibited. Attacks that are expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects excessive to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage are also prohibited. Such attacks amount to war crimes that can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
In order to ensure greater protection of the civilian population and essential infrastructure, all parties engaged in fighting in Libya must cease the use of mortars and other indirect weapons and imprecise aerial bombardments in civilian-populated areas, and not place fighters or other military objectives in populated areas. All executions of captives must cease and all those captured including fighters must be treated humanely in all circumstances. Murdering or torturing captives is also a war crime, regardless of what the captive may be accused of.
Cases highlighted in the “Casualties from other violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights” section include casualties caused during incidents that would constitute a violation of international humanitarian or human rights law, but are not a direct result of hostilities, for examples executions upon capture of civilians and others hors de combat (such as captured fighters) and torture causing death. The section also includes casualties caused by the proliferation of weapons and impunity enjoyed by armed groups and criminal networks – considered as indirect consequences of hostilities. Cases highlighted in the “other casualties” section are not included in the figures for civilian casualties and include only those that UNSMIL documented during the month.
Contact UNSMIL’s Human Rights Monitoring Team to report information on civilian casualties in Libya at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.