Citing indiscriminate violence by armed fighters in Libya and grave abuses by all sides in the conflict, a new United Nations report out today warns that serious human rights violations are taking place in the country's two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, with dire consequences for civilians and civilian infrastructure.
The joint report by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN human rights office (OHCHR) gives an overview of abuses, including indiscriminate shelling and attacks on civilian objects, the shelling of hospitals, the abduction of civilians, torture and unlawful killings.
Detailing accounts of civilian casualties, including women, children and foreign nationals, the report also states that that fighters appear to disregard the likely impact of their action on civilians and have inadequate training and discipline. Further, the use of badly maintained and faulty weapons and ammunition increases inaccuracy.
"These factors suggest that many attacks carried out in Tripoli and Benghazi are indiscriminate," says the report, which covers the period between mid-May and the end of August.
The report said the capital, Tripoli, witnessed six consecutive weeks of violence from 13 July, when an alliance of armed groups primarily from the city of Misrata but also from other towns including al-Zawiya and Gheryan, and Tripoli-based armed groups, launched "Operation Dawn" against the Zintan-affiliated al-Qa'qa' and al-Sawai'q armed groups allied with fighters from the Warshafana region west of Tripoli.
In Benghazi in mid-May, retired General Khalifa Haftar announced an armed campaign, "Operation Dignity," against the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR), an alliance including Ansar al-Shari'a, Libya Shield units and other armed groups. Since mid-July, Benghazi appears to be mostly under the control of the SCBR, although the fighting continues, including near Benina Airport.
In both Tripoli and Benghazi, all sides have been resorting to a variety of weapons in populated areas, including small arms, GRAD rockets, mortars, anti-aircraft guns, tanks and air attacks. Air strikes by "Operation Dignity" on populated areas have been frequently taking place in Benghazi since May 2014, while in Tripoli, the report says that there have been two air sorties against Operation Dawn armed groups.
The report goes on to reveal that dozens of civilians were reportedly abducted in Tripoli and Benghazi solely for their actual or suspected tribal, family or religious affiliation, and have remained missing since the time of their abduction.
Such abductions may amount to enforced disappearances if the parties to the conflict do not acknowledge their whereabouts, the report states. UNSMIL is raising cases of those detained with the relevant armed groups and welcomes further information from concerned parties.
"Protection of civilians must be a priority," the report states. "All armed groups must comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack," it adds, underscoring that all armed groups must desist from violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, "in particular all acts that may amount to war crimes."
The report urges all armed groups to release or hand over to the justice system individuals who they have detained. It also stresses that the lack of compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law by one party does not absolve other parties from their obligations to comply with these standards.
"All armed groups must remove from active duty and hand over to the justice system those among their members suspected of having committed abuses," the report warns, and adds: "Political or military leaders can be held criminally responsible not only if they order crimes, but also if they are in a position to stop them and do not do so."
UNSMIL also estimates that at least 100,000 Libyans have been internally displaced by the fighting including Tawerghans who were already in their displacement camps since 2011, and that a further 150,000 people, including many migrant workers, have left the country.
The deepening political polarization, the fighting and the risk of retaliation by armed groups have generated a climate of fear in which people are reluctant to talk about certain violations and abuses. It has also led many activists, including in particular women activists, to leave the country.
UNSMIL and OHCHR have appealed to all sides of the conflict to cease all armed hostilities and engage in an inclusive political dialogue to build a State based on the respect of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. UNSMIL continues to engage with all sides to end the fighting and ensure that civilians are protected, the report states.