The UN reports a serious and growing threat to civilians from unexploded ordinance in Libya. The UN Mine Action Services, or UNMAS, is reporting on a new and exponentially growing concern from unexploded and banned cluster weapons since fighting began anew in April of 2019. UNMAS notes especially the re-contamination to parts of the country previously cleared from such explosives.
As UNSMIL reported in January, the volume of such uncontrolled ordinance in and around Tripoli has increased exponentially, with hundreds of reports coming in from civilians near the fighting.
UNMAS “estimates between 150,0000 – 200,000 tonnes of unexploded munitions across Libya currently. NGO Human Rights Watch has accused Haftar of using the banned cluster munitions in his attack on Tripoli. Cluster bombs spray multiple small explosive charges while in the air, although many fail to detonate initially, and can harm civilians later who may stumble upon them.
Despite the UN’s Security Council recently passing a new resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya, analyst Jalel Harchaoui blamed the council members for the dangers being posed to civilians by these unexploded munitions. He notes the council has shown “zero commitment” to enforcing its arms embargo, announced in 2011. “There’s a free-for-all, almost like a green light that is …sent by the member states of the security council.”
Six Libyan families are suing Khalifa Haftar and the UAE government in a federal US court for alleged war crimes committed in Libya, according to Turkish media sources. The families are suing for $1 billion in damages over relatives who were murdered, injured or targeted by Haftar and his forces. According to a press release put out by the families’ legal counsel, "By filing the lawsuit in Washington, the plaintiffs will bring to light the serious human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings and torture which the defendants have engaged in with absolute impunity and without fear of accountability”.
The release went on to say that Haftar is “not just a war criminal but also a US citizen with assets and family members…can and will be held accountable for his illegal and barbaric acts”.
Two Eritrean refugees were reportedly killed in Tripoli, just days after leaving a crowded UN “Gathering and Departure Facility” (GDF). The deaths have led to growing concerns on the state of these facilities and for the safety of refugees in Libya.
According to some media reports, the UN pressed the two to depart the facility to make room for more “vulnerable” refugees, however, responding to the Guardian, the UN agency in charge of the facility denied these reports.
The GDF was set up in 2018 as an “alternative to detention” but quickly became overcrowded. Newcomers are often offered money and encouraged to return to their homes or find alternative solutions. In practice, many use the money to rent apartments in Tripoli and get on smuggling ships to Europe. The UNHCR has limited options to evacuate and resettle refugees and asylum seekers.
The two men were part of a group of dozens reportedly forced out of the GDF 10 days prior. However, the UNHCR said the two left voluntarily and did not accept cash, rather that the centre “operated as an open centre where people have freedom of movement and can leave at any time”. They were “deeply saddened” by the “incident (which) appears to have been a robbery attempt” where the two were residing. In comparison, the detention centres, which are overseen by the GNA or related militias, are not open and often run by officials connected to human traffickers.
The UN has also been accused of trying to “starve out” refugees from the GDFs, allegations backed by internal documents and aid workers familiar with the situation, who say the UN is “starving (the) population inside…trying to starve them to motivate them to leave.” The UNHCR admitted it encouraged people to leave but denied any wrongdoing or using such tactics.
The deaths come in addition to multiple reports of refugees and migrants being killed in Tripoli in recent years.
EU diplomatic missions in Libya are calling for the release of Silham Sergiwa, a member of parliament serving in the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, and a known women's rights activist. Sergiwa disappeared from her Benghazi home on July 17, after it was raided by militants. Relatives think she may have been kidnapped after offering a "critical interview" on a pro Haftar television station. In the interview, Sergiwa offered a cloaked criticism of Haftar and the LNA's offensive on Tripoli, calling for "an end to the bloodshed".
The statement put out by the EU representatives in Libya included Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK, and called on "relevant authorities to conduct urgent investigations into her disappearance, and provide an update on her whereabouts". The signatories further cautioned against human rights violations, whose perpetrators "will be held accountable". The UN has also called for an investigation into Sergiwa's disappearance.
Al Jazeera, reporting on the incident, noted that "there have been a lot of attacks on politicians and political activists, including opponents of the operation led by...Haftar".
The United Nations Children's Fund - UNICEF - announced Saturday that it needs USD 14.8 million to cover basic life-saving services in Libya, according to Chinese news sources.
"UNICEF humanitarian response remains underfunded. The current funding gap stands at USD 14.8 until the end of 2019 with major funding gaps in all life-saving health and nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and child protection activities," said a UNICEF spokesperson. The organisation noted nearly 5000 students have been impacted in July and August by the ongoing fighting in and around Tripoli and in western Libya in general. The fighting so far has displaced nearly 130,000 Libyans, who are subject to injury, violence and death.
The ICC - International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told the UNSC she has "reliable information" on the whereabouts of Seif al-Islam Ghaddafi, son of former dictator Muamar Ghaddafi, as well as two other Libyans wanted for war crimes.
Bensouda urged all UN states, "including Libya and Egypt" where the three are said to be located, to facilitate the immediate arrest and surrender the Libyan fugitives to the court."
Along with Ghaddafi, the court seeks to arrest Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, who headed the internal security services, and is residing in Cairo, and Mahmud al-Werfalli, an LNA commander. Ghaddafi is supposedly in the Zintan region while Werfalli continues to serve in Haftar's forces and is in the Bengazi area.
The three are wanted for war crimes, including "murder, torture, cruel treatment and .... other inhumane acts."
A group of 6 medical workers held captive by a Libyan militia were released (Oct 23) after 12 days in captivity.
The workers, including doctors, surgeons, nurses and technicians, were a part of a humanitarian convoy making its way through the Nafussa mountains. Family members of the captured individuals believe they were taken by militants from Zintan, who sought to leverage them in order to free a detained militant (from Zintan) being held in Tripoli, who was receiving treatment at a local hospital. The convoy was stopped on October 11, with armed men taking specifically only the medical staff from the Tripoli area hospitals and clinics.
The political and military authorities in Zintan, a city of about 50,000 in northwest Libya, are divided between the GNA and LNA sides of the conflict. One of the LNA’s senior commanders who controls the western forces is from Zintan, and most of the local militias seem to be pro-LNA.
UNSMIL, the UN Support Mission in Libya, reported Friday (10-25) that it has documented at least 58 attacks on health worker and medical facilities throughout Libya this year. The UN representative strongly condemned all attacks on civilian targets, including and especially medical facilities and personnel. The latest such attack took place this past Thursday (10-25), in which 2 airstrikes hit a field hospital and an ambulance near Tripoli, killing a paramedic.
The Tripoli government said it had given all medical facility coordinates to UNSMIL representatives to ensure those would be avoided in the fighting. It blamed UNSMIL for passing on that information to LNA forces who were purposefully targeting those areas. The UN denied such allegations.
Over 40 asylum seekers protested last week at a UN refugee facility in Tripoli, claiming the UN rejected their refugee relocation requests, including women and children, who were being held in Libyan refugee detention centres. Those rejected were being hosted at UN transit centres (Gathering and Departure Facility – GDF) in Tripoli, and said they were asked to leave. Al Jazeera reports that this was the first time the UNHCR rejected relocation requests, and that at least 87 such requests were rejected last week.
The UNHCR responded, that there “are simply not enough evacuation and resettlement places” in third counties. It also claimed that it had not forced anyone to leave the GDF. The UN established the facility to house “particularly at risk” individuals, who are subject to a variety of human rights abuses. The UNHCR says there are over 5000 refugees being held in official facilities in Libya. Those asked to leave, it noted, were done so in order to make room for more vulnerable refugees from other facilities. The UN has managed so far to evacuate or resettle 1663 refugees from Libya this year, only a small percent of those trapped in the country.
Human Rights group Amnesty International reports it has evidence that war crimes are being committed by both sides in the fighting in Tripoli. A report released Tuesday, the same day an errant rocket killed two children in their home, claims fighters are launching indiscriminate attacks with a “range of inaccurate explosive weapons” in urban areas, injuring and killing civilians. The report notes the use of “unguided rockets … modern drone launched guided missiles… that could amount to war crimes.”
Amnesty has been conducting its investigating since fighting broke out in Tripoli in April, visiting 33 sites where air and ground attacks took place. The report claims over 100 civilians killed or wounded and 100,000 displaced by the recent fighting, including the most lethal attack which hit a field hospital in July, killing 5 medical personnel and injuring more. According to Amnesty, neither side of the conflict agreed to respond to questions regarding these findings.
Amnesty called on the international community to uphold the UN arms embargo, which it claims Turkey, the UAE, Jordan and others are violating. UNICEF, the UN agency for children’s welfare, called on all sides “to refrain from attacks on civilian infrastructure, including … homes, schools, hospitals and medical facilities.”