Archives For The Law of War

According to NATO  figures, coalition aircraft delivered 415 key strikes on the town of Sirte between Sunday 28th August and Thursday 20th October. We have compared this to the bombing of Guernica and other comparisons have been made to the widely condemned levelling of Grozny. Continue Reading…

Muammar al-Gaddafi 1942-2011. Photo OAU 1975

Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi was reportedly captured and shot dead 20 October. As the evidence below shows the Libyan leader and his son Mutassim were summarily executed by the rebels, sharing the fate of so many Libyans in this conflict. Continue Reading…

Mohamed and Motez al-Mrabet, ages 5 and 3 and their mother Ibtisam were killed by RAF / NATO bombs in Zlitan on Thurday.

CNN reports that at the funeral Abubakr Ali watched volunteers carefully bury the bodies of his sister and two nephews next to the neighborhood mosque. According the family a third child, Naji aged 8, is in serious condition in hospital.

“This was a civilian home. No army, no military, no Gadhafi forces. It’s a family sleeping safely in their place,” he said. “This is the protection of civilians.”

This follows quickly upon the attacks on the Libyan water infrastructure and on a clinic in Zlitan.

Footage of the reaction of people of Zlitan, relatives and of the victims (graphic):

NATO’s regular email update indicates they have hit the following key targets on Thursday:

In the vicinity of Zlitan : 1 Ammunition Storage Facility, 1 Military Facility, 2 Multiple Rocket Launchers, 1 Surface to Air Missal [sic] System . (To which can be appended 1 House, 2 Kids 1 Mother)

Tweet by Maj Gen Nick Pope, the Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer and Ministry of Defence spokesman on military operations, omits any mention of the civilians killed:

Can you imagine if they had been American or British?

An article in The Telegraph reports that there is a strong racial element in the conflict between Misrata and Zlitan, with many inhabitants of Zlitan being descendents of slaves. Human Rights Investigations has reported before on the ethnic cleansing of Misrata and on the Misratan “Brigade to purge slaves, black skin.”

The RAF is now acting as the air arm to this ethnic cleansing.

NATO jets have been attacking food stores and destroyed a health clinic in Zlitan. The CNN report by Ivan Watson and Jomana Karadsheh  from Zlitan, a town half-way between Tripoli and Misrata provides further evidence of how NATO and the rebels are working together closely in a military campaign, not to protect civilians but to conquer anti-rebel areas for the National Transitional Council.

The report quotes local official Ramadan Mohamad Ramadan as saying:

“People here call NATO the crazy one which lost its sanity, it is waging wide-scale war on the people. They are destroying everything.”

Ramadan was standing in front of the rubble of a health clinic that he said had been demolished by a pre-dawn attack on Monday. Several bulldozers dug through wreckage strewn with medical supplies, including syringes, medication and even a microscope.

Government officials said they were looking for the bodies of three people believed to be buried underneath, and said the bodies of eight people had been pulled out earlier in the day.

This is a relevant tweet from Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer and Ministry of Defence spokesman on military operations Major General Nick Pope:

As the rebels push forward, so loyalist forces and anti-rebel civilians concentrate forces to counter them – presenting targets for the NATO jets. The report from Zlitan indicates the RAF has no great compunction about bombing targets in urban areas (if anyone thought they might have). The fact the civilian population, which came out against the rebels in massive demonstations in Zlitan not long ago, has largely chosen to flee the rebel advance is significant.

It is obvious that dark-skinned Libyans and pro-Gaddafi civilians will want to avoid falling under the control of openly racist and murderous rebel brigades. Presuming the rebels do take control of a mainly empty Zlitan (as they have of empty towns in the Nafusa) it will be interesting to see how long for. As their supply lines become extended they are subject to counter-attack, particularly by the inhabitants of the towns they have conquered.

As is common with desert warfare, the main aim of the rival militaries is not so much control of territory (which is important for civilians and for propaganda purposes) but destruction of the opposition. In the unlikely event the rebels ever make it to the gates of Tripoli, the destruction which would be meted out to the civilians and defenders of that city can scarcely be imagined.

Huamn Rights Investigations condemns this war crime and calls for an immediate end to the bombing of Libya.

Paveway bomb

The Great Man-Made River

It is a war crime to attack essential civilian infrastructure. 95% of Libya is desert and 70% of Libyans depend on water which is piped in from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System under the southern desert. The water pipe infrastructure is probably the most essential civilian infrastructure in Libya. Key to its continued function, particularly in time of war, is the Brega pipe factory which enables leaks and breaks in the system to be repaired.

NATO has admitted that its jets attacked the pipe factory on 22 July, claiming in justification that it was used as a military storage facility and rockets were launched from there.

The Great Man-Made River

Libyans like to call the Great Man-Made River “The eighth wonder of the world”.

According to a March 2006 report by the BBC  the industrialisation of Libya following the Great Al-Fatah Revolution in 1969, put strain on water supplies and coastal aquifers became contaminated with sea water, to such an extent that the water in Benghazi was undrinkable. Finding a supply of fresh, clean water became a government priority and fortunately oil exploration in the 1950s had revealed vast aquifers beneath Libya’s southern desert.

In August 1984, Muammar Al Qadhafi laid the foundation stone for the pipe production plant at Brega. The Great Man-Made River Project had begun. Adam Kuwairi, a senior figure in the Great Man-Made River Authority (GMRA), vividly remembers the impact the fresh water had on him and his family:

“The water changed lives. For the first time in our history, there was water in the tap for washing, shaving and showering. The quality of life is better now, and it’s impacting on the whole country.”

On 3 April  Libya warned that NATO-led air strikes could cause a “human and environmental disaster” if air strikes damaged the Great Man-Made River project.

Engineer and project manager Abdelmajid Gahoud told foreign journalists in Tripoli:

If part of the infrastructure is damaged, the whole thing is affected and the massive escape of water could cause a catastrophe,” leaving 4.5 million thirsty Libyans deprived of drinking water.

The Brega Pipe-Making Plant

The Pre-Stressed Concrete Cylinder Pipe Factory at Brega is one of only two such facilities in Libya – the other being at Sarir to the east. This makes it a very important component of the Great Man-Made River – with two production lines making up to 80 pipes a day.

According to the BBC:

The engineer in charge of the Brega pipe factory is Ali Ibrahim. He is proud that Libyans are now running the factory:

“At first, we had to rely on foreign-owned companies to do the work. But now it’s government policy to involve Libyans in the project. Libyans are gaining experience and know-how, and now more than 70% of the manufacturing is done by Libyans. With time, we hope we can decrease the foreign percentage from 30% to 10%.”

As a result, Libya is now a world leader in hydrological engineering and it wants to export its expertise to other African and Middle-Eastern countries facing similar problems with their water.

According to the official web site of the Great Man-Made River Authority:

Approximately 500,000 pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes have been manufactured to date. Approximately 500,000 pipes transported to date. Pipe transportation is continuous process  and the work goes on day and night, distance traveled by the transporters is equivalent to the sun and back. Over 3,700 km of haul roads  was constructed alongside the pipe line trench to enable the heavy truck – trailers to deliver pipe to the installation site.

NATO Attack

On 22 July NATO warplanes attacked the pipe making plant at Brega killing six of the facility’s security guards:

As you can see from Google Earth the 100s of pipes at this facility, out in the desert south of Brega, make it clear, even from the air, that this is a pipe-production plant:

Video footage shows a major building within the plant has been destroyed and there is also damage to at least one of the trucks which is used to transport pipes to places where repairs are required:

According to AP, Abdel-Hakim el-Shwehdy, head  of the company running the project, said:

“Major parts of the plant have been damaged. There could be major setback for the future  projects.”

Water supply to Brega Cut

On Monday 18 July rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told AFP that remnants of Gadhafi’s troops were holed up among industrial facilities in Brega with supplies dwindling.

“Their food and water supplies are cut and they now will not be able to sleep.”

Given the rebel boasts that the pro-Gadaffi forces in Brega had no water, the question has to be posed whether this attack was a deliberate attempt to prevent repair of the pipeline into Brega.

NATO Response

In response to HRI enquiry, NATO press office said:

We can confirm that we targeted Brega on July 22nd and we stroke successfully: one military storage facility and four armed vehicles.”

HRI requested clarification:

The building you hit (apparently in the Brega pipe factory) was being used for what kind of military storage?

What considerations were taken into account to ensure that the strikes did not damage civilian infrastructure or was damage to the civilian infrastructure considered legitimate?

Given the potential consequences to civilians of damage to the pipe factory and the ability of the engineers to be able to repair broken water pipelines I hope you will appreciate the importance of these questions.

At the 26th July at the NATO press conference in Naples  Colonel Rolond Lavoie, neglecting to inform the assembled journalists that the “concrete factory” plays an important role in preserving Libya’s water supply, said:

Now in the area of Brega, NATO strikes included armoured vehicles, rocket launchers, military storage facilities and a repurposed concrete factory from which Pro-Gaddafi forces were using multi-viral [sic] rocket launchers, exposing the population to indirect fire.

Let me show you some intelligence pictures that illustrate what we have observed at this concrete factory. By the way these pictures will be made available on the NATO site so it will be possible for the media can download them

So basically repeatedly over the last few weeks we got clear intelligence indicating that pro-Gadaffi forces are using this factory for military purposes. This factory is being used to hide military material including Multiple Rocket Launchers. These weapons have been used every day from within this factory compound and then carefully hidden after the day within or along massive pipes you can see in this picture.

Slide 1 20 July

Slide 2 23 July

Slide 1 20 July apparently shows a BM-21 rocket launcher -a model of rocket launcher widely used by both loyalist and rebel forces in Libya.

Slide 2 23 July apparently shows a BM-21 rocket launcher. The slide shows black smoke in the centre of the picture which suggests two hits (possibly on vehicles) have already been made, with the BM-21 left intact.

Neither slide appears to show the building which was destroyed in the video or helps to understand when or why that was hit. So the photos lead to more questions than they answer – clearly the BM-21, spotted on the 20th, was not considered a priority target, and there is nothing in the NATO explanation which explains why the water supplies of the Libyan people have now been put at such risk.

On 27th July further enquiries by HRI elicited the additional information that

The factory is being used to hide military material, including multiple rocket launchers. These weapons have been used every day from within this factory compound and then carefully hidden after the day within the factory buildings and the area. 

and

All sites that could be used by the pro-Qadhafi regime forces to threaten or attack civilians can be considered as a legitimate target by NATO in full accordance with UNSCR 1973. That resolution mandates the use of all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya from attack or threat of attacks.

According to the NATO press office, the attack was within the rules of engagement agreed upon by all 28 countries in the coalition by consensus. It seems unlikely that the rules of engagement would allow this attack or that the states in the Security Council would agree that a devious interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 should supercede international humanitarian law.

NATO have failed to provide answers to the following questions:

  • Do you have any concrete evidence that rockets were fired from inside the pipe-making plant?
  • Can you explain the precise targeting and timing of strikes within this facility?
  •  What steps were taken to ensure collateral damage to the facility was avoided?
  • What alternatives were considered to military strikes on this factory?

Applicable humanitarian law

The Laws of War were designed to prevent attacks on targets indispensible to the civilian population, so attacking a civilian infrastructure target such as this plant is a war crime.

Even if rockets were being fired from within the location (for which no evidence has been produced) or this facility was being used for military storage by Gadaffi forces, or housed armoured vehicles, attacking the pipe-making factory in a way that leaves it severely damaged is illegal as this facility is important to the water supplies of Libyan civilians.

The citing of UNSCR 1973 does not supercede the need for NATO forces to obey the laws of war.

Applicable humanitarian law includes (inter alia):

Rule 15. In the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects. All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. [IAC/NIAC]

Rule 16. Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to verify that targets are military objectives. [IAC/NIAC]

Rule 17. Each party to the conflict must take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. [IAC/NIAC]

Rule 18. Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to assess whether the attack may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. [IAC/NIAC]

Rule 54. Attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population is prohibited.

Human Rights Investigations demands:

1) The immediate cessation of the bombing campaign by NATO which is putting Libyan civilians in mortal danger

2) A peace congress be convened to bring this conflict to a rapid end.

The European Court of Human Rights has (7 july 2011) delivered two important rulings. The first judgement was in regard to the responsibility of the UK to carry out effective investigations into the killing of civilians by UK forces:

In today’s Grand Chamber judgment in the case Al-Skeini and Others v the United Kingdom (application no. 55721/07), which is final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that:

in the exceptional circumstances deriving from the United Kingdom’s assumption of authority for the maintenance of security in South East Iraq from 1 May 2003 to 28 June 2004, the UK had jurisdiction under Article 1 (obligation to respect human rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of civilians killed during security operations carried out by UK soldiers in Basrah and, that there had been a failure to conduct an independent and effective investigation into the deaths of the relatives of five of the six applicants, in violation of Article 2 of the Convention.

The case concerned the deaths of the applicants’ six close relatives in Basrah in 2003 while the UK was an occupying power: three of the victims were shot dead or shot and fatally wounded by British soldiers; one was shot and fatally wounded during an exchange of fire between a British patrol and unknown gunmen; one was beaten by British soldiers and then forced into a river, where he drowned; and one died at a British military base, with 93 injuries identified on his body.

This judgement will lead to a large number of claims regarding the conduct of British troops in and around Basra in the wake of the 2003 invasion as it effectively extends the protections offered by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Those who brought the case were represented by Public Interest Lawyers of Birmingham, UK.

The second judgement was with regard to the indefinite detention of a British-Iraqi citizen in a Basra facility run by UK forces:

In today’s Grand Chamber judgment in the case Al-Jedda v. the UK (no. 27021/08), which is final the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority of sixteeen to one, that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned the internment of an Iraqi civilian for more than three years (2004-2007) in a detention centre in Basrah, Iraq, run by British forces.

 

NATO has disclosed some ways they use twitter according to a report released by AFP.

NATO has made three statements regarding their use of Twitter.

Firstly Wing Commander Mike Bracken has stated that NATO gets information from “open sources on the internet, we get Twitter,” which is a surprise to no one.

More interesting is that NATO officials have stated:

1) Libyans have been providing information in tweets regarding troop movements
2) NATO Intelligence monitor twitter to identify targets

There are a few points to make about this:

A) These activities run the risk of blurring the distinction between combatants and the civilian population which can endanger the general civilian population.

B) Regarding 1) – it isn’t stated whether these Libyans are combatants (integrated in the militia) or civilian, but its worth noting that civilians who engage directly in combat – which would include providing targeting information – would run a risk of being placed in the unfortunate category of “unlawful combatants” and facing criminal liability for their actions. Just to note, even if they were placed in this category, they should still be treated humanely but they might not be granted POW status.

C) States using civilians in violation of the law of war will be in breach of their responsibility under that law.

In a conflict ostensibly aimed at protecting civilians, which will doubtless inform the way future conflicts are conducted, consideration needs to be given to these issues.