A human rights organisation has called on Nato to compensate survivors of airstrikes in Libya which it says killed dozens of civilians.
At least 72 people, a third of them under the age of 18, were killed by Nato airstrikes, according to a report by Human Rights Watch – one of the most extensive investigations into the issue. The New York-based group called on the Western alliance to acknowledge the casualties and compensate those who survived.
The decision by the United States and its Nato allies to launch an air campaign that mainly targeted regime forces and military infrastructure marked a turning point in Libya’s civil war, giving rebels a fighting chance. But Muammar Gaddafi’s government and allies in Russia and China criticised the alliance for going beyond its UN mandate to protect civilians.
The number of Libyans killed or injured in airstrikes also emerged as a key issue in the war as Gaddafi’s regime frequently exaggerated figures and Nato refused to comment on most claims, insisting all targets were military.
At one point, Libya’s health ministry said 856 civilians had been killed in Nato’s campaign, which began in March 2011, weeks after the uprising against Gaddafi that erupted with peaceful protests evolved into a civil war. The UN-appointed International Commission of Inquiry on Libya said earlier this year that at least 60 civilians had been unintentionally killed and recommended further investigation.
In response, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in March that the alliance had looked into all allegations of harm to civilians and determined that the sites struck were legitimate military targets and that “great care was taken in each case to minimise risk to civilians”.
Based on investigations conducted in Libya from August 2011 to the end of April 2012, Human Rights Watch established that 28 men, 20 women and 24 children had been killed in eight Nato bombings in Tripoli, Zlitan, Sorman, Bani Walid, Gurdabiya and Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. The group said it had documented several cases in which there was clearly no military target and criticised Nato for failing to acknowledge the deaths or to examine how and why they occurred.
In Brussels, Nato said it had carried out the bombing campaign with “unprecedented care and precision” and had fulfilled the requirements of international humanitarian law.
“Nato did everything possible to minimise risks to civilians but in a complex military campaign that risk can never be zero,” spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. “We deeply regret any instance of civilian casualties for which Nato may have been responsible.
“We have reviewed all the information we hold as an organisation and confirmed that the specific targets struck by Nato were legitimate military targets.”