Human Rights Report on Civilian Casualties - September 2017
Tunis, 1 October 2017 – From 1 September to 30 September 2017, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented 35 civilian casualties - 12 deaths and 23 injuries – during the conduct of hostilities across Libya. Victims included 7 men killed and 8 injured, 3 women killed and 2 injured, and 2 children killed (1 girl and 1 boy) and 13 children injured ( 7 girls and 6 boys).
The majority of civilian casualties were caused by explosive remnants of war (ERW, 5 deaths and 5 injuries) and gunfire (4 deaths and 6 injuries). The exact causes of another 3 deaths and 12 injuries were unknown – but likely to either be shelling or gunfire.
UNSMIL documented 5 deaths and 12 injuries in Sabratha, 5 deaths and 8 injuries in Benghazi, 3 injuries in Derna, 1 death in al-Zawiya, and 1 death in Tobruk.
On 17 September, clashes erupted in the city of Sabratha and continued intermittently till today, leading to heavy civilian casualties. At least 4 men and 1 woman died, while 6 men, 2 women, and 4 children were injured. They included a woman who sustained fatal shrapnel injuries, while in her kitchen and a 55-year-old man walking home from the local mosque. A couple were hit while fleeing clashes, leading to the husband’s death and the wife’s injury. UNSMIL was unable to ascertain the civilian status of another 37 men injured during the clashes.
On 1 September, an 80-year-old woman was killed at home in the area of al-Harsha, when it was attacked by al-Harsha based armed groups following a pro-Qadhafi march.
In Benghazi, ERW caused the death of 3 men, 1women and 1 child and the injury of a man and 4 children. On 3 September, a woman was killed in another ERW explosion in central Benghazi, while her husband was injured. The couple were reportedly displaced during the armed conflict, and were returning to their house to assess the damage, demonstrating the threats posed by ERW for civilians returning home to conflict-affected areas. On 21 September, a 13 year-old-girl was killed,her two younger sisters, aged 5 and 3, and another 13-year-old boy were injured while playing outside the girls’ grandmother’s house in Benghazi’s Gawarsha neighbourhood in an ERW explosion. On 9 September, a 14-year-old boy was injured by an EWR while playing football, resulting in the amputation of his lower limbs.
On 18 September, Libyan National Army (LNA) affiliates stationed at the Martouba checkpoint fired into the air to disperse Derna residents seeking passage. As a result, a man in his 60s sustained shrapnel injuries to his eye. On 22 September, two girls sustained gunshot wounds when their car came under fire in the area of Fataeh in Derna.
On 6 September, a medical professional working at al-Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi was stabbed by an alleged LNA affiliate. The suspected perpetrator was reportedly taken for questioning by the Military Police.
The University Hospital in Sabratah was hit by shells twice, on 19 and 21 September, causing damage to the emergency and surgery units and rendering them un-operational. The World Heritage Archaeological Site of Sabratha was also hit by bullets.
Civilian casualties in Sabratha were caused by fighting between the 48th Infantry Brigade (also known as the Martyr Anas al-Dabashi armed group) and the Operations Room to Combat the Islamic State, each side supported by local fighters. The 48th Infantry Brigade is under the Chief-of-Staff of the armed forces under the Government of National Accord, while the Operations Room was established by the Presidential Council. Warring parties endangered civilians by using unprecise weapons, including artillery shells and anti-aircraft guns, in densely populated areas.
The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council and allies are believed to have been responsible for leaving mines and other ERW in areas of Benghazi they controlled prior to their retreat.
UNSMIL was unable to determine with certainty which parties to the conflict had caused the other civilian casualties in September.
On 1 September, the body of a 59 year-old-man from al-Harsha bearing gunshot wounds was found in an al-Zawiya farm. He had been captured unharmed hours earlier by local armed groups, following a march in support of the al-Qadhafi regime and ensuing violence.
On 4 September, an Egyptian migrant worker was shot dead inside a store in the area of Sabriya in al-Zawiya by unknown assailants.
On 4 September, a 26-year-old imam and student in Islamic jurisprudence died while in the custody of the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC). On 6 September, the DMSC issued a statement acknowledging his apprehension on suspicion of passing information to the LNA, but denied claims of torture being the cause of death. Information obtained by UNSMIL indicates the victim had been subjected to beatings while in custody.
On 13 September, the body of a 17-year-old boy, bearing signs of torture and gunshot wounds, was found in the Gawarsha neighborhood of Benghazi. The victim was seized from the street by three armed males following a dispute.
On 25 September, two security personnel stationed in front of the Sabha General Hospital were gunned down in a fatal drive-by shooting by unknown assailants.
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.