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Libya: Civilian lives must be protected as clashes escalate in Tripoli offensive

    April 08, 2019

    Fears of further civilian bloodshed are growing as clashes on the outskirts of Tripoli, between forces from the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, under General Khalifa Haftar’s command, and militias aligned with Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord escalate, said Amnesty International today.

    According to the Tripoli-based Health Ministry, at least 25 people have been killed and 80 injured since the offensive by General Haftar to take over the capital, Tripoli, was launched on 4 April. At least four of those killed were civilians, including two medical workers, according to the UN.

    “The escalation of violence on the outskirts of Tripoli is deeply alarming – there are fears that the civilian death toll will rise rapidly as the fighting intensifies and spreads into more densely populated parts of the city,” said Magdalena Mughrabi Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    “All parties to the conflict have an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians. They must distinguish between civilians and combatants at all times, and the targeting of civilians, medical workers and health facilities are absolutely prohibited. Explosive weapons with wide area effects, including artillery and mortars, must never be used in the vicinity of concentrations of civilians.”

    Both the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army and government-aligned militias in western Libya have appalling human rights records and a history of flagrantly flouting international law and committing war crimes, including by carrying out indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, abductions, torture and extrajudicial executions.

    Video footage posted on social media shows fighters using a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), which fires unguided and inaccurate rockets and should not be used in densely populated civilian areas because of the high risk that they will kill or injure civilians. Flights from Mitiga airport have been suspended after an air strike by the Libyan National Army forces.

    The International Organization for Migration has warned that some 2,800 people have been displaced by the fighting so far, and that in some areas civilians have been unable to leave due to intensity of the clashes. Many are cut off from emergency services. Calls for a truce to evacuate wounded people and civilians in certain areas were ignored.

    “Any civilians that wish to leave the area should be allowed to do so freely without coming under attack,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

    Some of the fighting is also in close proximity to immigration detention centres in Qasr Ben Gashir and Ain Zara, where around 1,300 refugees and migrants are being held.

    “Refugees and migrants detained in Libya are already extremely vulnerable and suffer horrendous abuse at the hands of detaining authorities and smugglers. There are real concerns for their safety and their humanitarian situation if the clashes intensify, with reports of some being left locked up without food or water, in inhuman conditions,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

    For more information please contact: Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (Ottawa), 613-744-7667 ext. 236, lscholey@amnesty.ca