U.N. Faults NATO and Libyan Authorities in Report
By Neil MacFarquhar
The New York Times
March 2, 2012
BEIRUT, Lebanon — NATO has not sufficiently investigated the air raids it conducted on Libya that killed at least 60 civilians and wounded 55 more during the conflict there, according to a new United Nations report released Friday.
Nor has Libya’s interim government done enough to halt the disturbing violence perpetrated by revolutionary militias seeking to exact revenge on loyalists, real or perceived, to the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the report concluded.
Published without publicity on the Web site of the United Nations Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, the report details the results of an investigation by a three-member commission of distinguished jurists. It paints a generally gloomy picture of the level of respect for human rights and international law in Libya, while acknowledging that the problem is a legacy of the long years of violent repression under Colonel Qaddafi.
NATO air raids that killed civilians in Libya have been criticized by rights groups, and the alliance’s refusal to acknowledge or investigate some of the deaths has been the subject of earlier news reports, including an extensive account in The New York Times last December. The new report represents the first time that NATO’s actions in Libya have been criticized under the auspices of the United Nations, where the bombing campaign in the name of protecting civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s forces was authorized by the Security Council.
The report concluded that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces had perpetuated war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and attacks on civilians using excessive force and rape.
But the armed anti-Qaddafi militia forces in Libya also “committed serious violations,” including war crimes and breaches of international rights law that continue today, the 220-page report said.
Through this past January, militia members continued with the mass arrests of former soldiers, police officers, suspected mercenaries and others perceived to be Qaddafi loyalists, the report said. Certain revenge attacks have continued unabated, particularly the campaign by the militiamen of Misurata to wipe a neighboring town, Tawergha, off the map; the fighters accuse its residents of collaborating with a government siege.
Such attacks have been documented before, but the report stressed that despite previous criticism, the militiamen were continuing to hunt down the residents of the neighboring town no matter where they had fled across Libya. As recently as Feb. 6, militiamen from Misurata attacked a camp in Tripoli where residents of Tawergha had fled, killing an elderly man, a woman and three children, the report said.
The commission remains “deeply concerned” that no independent investigations or prosecutions appear to have been instigated into killings by such militias, the report said.
“Libyan authorities can break with the Qaddafi legacy by enforcing the law equally, investigating all abuses — irrespective of the perpetrator,” the report said.
The commission members tried to ascertain how Colonel Qaddafi had died, but said the Libyan authorities did not give them access to the autopsy report, so further investigation was needed. Graphic videos of his last day alive on Oct. 20 suggest that the revolutionaries who captured him near his tribal hometown, Surt, beat him and executed him with gunfire.
There was no immediate reaction from the Libyan government to the United Nations report. Adel Shaltut, the deputy chief of the Libyan Mission in Geneva, said his government was studying the report.
The report gives some sense of the obstacles the Libyan government faces in trying to meet the lengthy list of recommendations that entail rebuilding the criminal justice system from the ground up. Government officials meeting with the commission emphasized the precariousness of the security situation, the weakness of the national police and the inability of the central authorities to enforce the rule of law, the report said.
It said the government was likely to face difficulty processing an estimated 8,000 detainees, with “many detainees” under the control of individual brigades and outside any legal framework. The report did note that the interim government had taken steps to set up institutions to address legal and human rights issues, including the National Fact-Finding and Reconciliation Commission.
The newest parts of the report were the questions raised about NATO attacks that killed and wounded civilians.
The commission of inquiry concluded in its report that NATO had sought to avoid civilian casualties in “a highly precise campaign” involving thousands of attack sorties.
But it also noted that in a few cases it had “confirmed civilian casualties and found targets that showed no evidence” of any military function. The commission investigated 20 NATO airstrikes, and it found that in five of them, a total of 60 civilians died and 55 were wounded. The most serious airstrike, on the town of Majer on Aug. 8, killed 34 civilians and wounded 38.
NATO identified four of the five targets as command-and-control points or troop staging areas, but the commission said that it found no physical evidence of this when it visited the sites and that witnesses denied that the five places had any military use.
The commission did not receive enough information from NATO to determine whether it had followed its own guidelines for avoiding civilian casualties when it processed the intelligence related to those sites before bombing them, the report said. It recommended that the organization carry out its own investigation.
Oana Lungescu, the spokeswoman for NATO, said the organization had reviewed its target selection and data collected during the airstrikes.
“This review process has confirmed that the specific targets struck by NATO were legitimate military targets selected consistently with the U.N. mandate, and that great care was taken in each case to minimize risk to civilians,” she said in a statement.
Hundreds of targets were rejected, and some strikes were aborted to avoid civilian casualties, she said, while noting that the Qaddafi government had often used civilian facilities to conduct military activities.
“The fact that observers were unable to detect evidence of military purpose or activity several months after the conflict cannot necessarily be taken to reflect the reality at the time of the strike,” Ms. Lungescu said.