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Human Rights Watch Cautions Against Civilian Casualties in Libya

  • Peter Clottey

An explosion is seen near Muammar Gadhafi's main compound in the Bab al-Aziziya district in Tripoli, Libya, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011

An explosion is seen near Muammar Gadhafi's main compound in the Bab al-Aziziya district in Tripoli, Libya, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) is expressing concern about unarmed Libyans caught in the conflict between rebels and supporters of Moammar Gadhafi.

Fred Abrahams, special adviser for the group, said the rebels, NATO and Gadhafi loyalists should do their utmost to protect the public.

“All sides… should take the utmost care to make sure that civilians are not targeted… to distinguish between combatants and civilians and try to minimize the impact of the fighting,” said Abraham.

Preventing retribution

Abrahams warns in particular against attacks against Gadhaffi loyalists.

“The danger of revenge is very real because you have four decades of dictatorship with many serious abuses; torture of political prisoners [and] missing persons. And now, [there’s been] six months of conflict in which many people lost their lives,” said Abraham.” So, some individuals on the rebel side are likely to take revenge against people who fought for Gadhafi or who they suspect of supporting Gadhafi.”

Abraham urged the rebel-lead Transitional National Council to prevent any acts of vengeance.

“The opposition authority has the responsibility here to do everything possible to stop this revenge because they started this uprising to have a Libya that has more respect for human rights… to turn away from torture and that’s why it’s important to set the tone from the very beginning,” said Abraham.

He also called on the opposition to protect civilians and government institutions including police stations and the courts.

ICC warrants

In June, The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Moammar Gadhafi, his son, Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi, after accusing them of committing crimes against humanity. But critics say the ICC has failed to indict rebels who allegedly committed similar acts of violence.

Abrahams called on the ICC to begin what he describes as a thorough probe on both sides of the conflict and to punish the perpetrators.

“We call for an open investigation so the evidence leads you wherever it may and prosecution should ensue, if the court determines that any one on the opposition side has violated the law to that extent,” said Abraham.

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