NATO accused of ignoring civilian deaths in Libya | News | DW | 14.05.2012
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NATO accused of ignoring civilian deaths in Libya

NATO airstrikes in Libya last year killed at least 72 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch based in New York. NATO previously said almost all locations struck during 9,600 raids were "legitimate military targets."

Human Rights Watch has accused the 28-nation NATO military alliance of failing to fully acknowledge the civilian death toll after its warplanes targeted the late Moammar Gadhafi's regime during last year's air strikes. The group says NATO should compensate civilian victims.

The principle author of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Monday, Fred Abrahams, accuses NATO of refusing to "examine the dozens of civilian deaths" in several documented cases in which there was no obvious military target.

A Dutch F-16 aircraft on landing approach at the Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, Italy, Thursday, March 24, 2011.

The NATO aircraft were based in the Meditteranean, in this case at a base in Sardinia

"Serious questions remain in some incidents about what exactly NATO forces were striking," Abrahams said, referring to the no-fly zone enforced by NATO under UN mandate.

Majer village exemplified

The report highlights a NATO raid on the rural village of Majer, 160 kilometers east of Tripoli, near the former rebel stronghold of Zintan, on August 8, 2011. NATO struck two family compounds, killing 34 civilians and wounding 30 others.

One bomb hit a large, two-storey house owned by a 61-year-old farmer, Ali Hamid Gafez. It was reportedly crowded with people who had fled fighting. Three more bombs fell, killing others who had rushed to the site to help, HRW said.

One day later, HRW said its personnel visited the location but found no evidence of military activity, except for a military-style shirt seen in the rubble.

NATO had claimed that the Majer compounds were a "staging base and military accommodation" used by forces of Gadhafi who was subsequently captured and killed by advancing rebels in October.

In a rare case, the Brussels-based alliance admitted that it made a mistake. It blamed a "weapons system failure" for the bombing of a home in Tripoli's Souk el-Juma neighborhood on June 19, 2011, that killed at least four people.

HRW said its investigators visited the site in August 2011 and "did not see any evidence of military activity." Satellite imagery had also shown no such signs, it said.

Gave rebels a fighting chance

The airborne campaign, backed by United Nations' Security Council resolution 1973, ran from late March until October last year and allowed UN member states to use "all necessary measures" to enforce a no-fly zone and protect Libyan civilians.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu at press conference

Complied with humanitarian law, says NATO' Oana Lungescu

NATO warplanes targeted forces loyal to Gadhafi, giving rebels - based initially in eastern Benghazi - a fighting chance. Russia and China, which abstained during that vote, later accused the alliance of overstepping its mandate.

Early this year, a UN-appointed International Commission of Inquiry on Libya concluded that at least 60 civilians had been unintentionally killed. Amnesty International in March said it had documented 55 civilian deaths, including 16 children.

Last December, NATO said the alliance's aerial campaign was conducted with "precision and to a standard exceeding that required by international humanitarian law."

Libya's UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi conceded there had been "some civilian casualties because of some errors." But he said Gadhafi deserved most of the blame. "Gaddafi placed his forces inside civilian areas, like schools."

ipj/msh (AP, Reuters)

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