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On 15th April Human Rights Watch issued a statement asserting,

“Government forces loyal to the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, have fired cluster munitions into residential areas in the western city of Misrata.”

Subsequent reports indicate a large number of civilians died in these attacks.

According to Fred Abrahams, Human Rights Watch assigned responsibility for these attacks to the loyalist forces on the basis that this munition was only fired from land-based mortars.

In fact, the MAT-120 is a specialised heavy cargo mortar system which is typically fired from a turret and which can be mounted on a small sea-based vessel.

The assignment of responsibility for these attacks to the Gaddafi forces is therefore, at best, premature.

Indeed, there is evidence these munitions are in the armoury of the coalition forces, the weapons systems needed to deliver them are in the coalition armoury and the coalition military leadership, including US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates regard the use of these weapons as effective and legitimate.

As the purported use of these munitions by Gaddafi’s forces has been an important factor in escalation of the Libyan conflict, it is a matter of urgency that Human Rights Watch correct their original report and ensure the world’s press are aware of the mistake made.

In addition, we would ask Human Rights Watch to provide a full explanation of

1) How this mistake was made, including from where the false information came from that these weapons could only be delivered by land-based weapons systems.

2) Why later investigation by HRW did not turn up this error.

Given the new information we have uncovered we would also expect Human Rights Watch

1) To issue a demand for full disclosure of coalition possession and use of cluster munitions in the Libyan conflict.

2) To issue a demand the coalition forces provide a full explanation of their operations, including special operations, off the coast of Misrata.

Update 23 June – No reply received – see later articles for updates on the HRI investigation.

HRI is focused on investigating human rights abuses which have not been brought to the public’s attention and also to act as a watchdog for other human rights organisations.

HRI is internationalist in outlook, focused on the human rights of the poorest people, dedicated to peaceful resolution of conflicts and not afraid to take on the rich and powerful.

HRI believes in empowering and giving a voice to the poor and oppressed and in working collaboratively with like-minded organisations and individuals.

HRI specialises in painstaking discovery procedures and dispassionate evaluation of information against a framework of international law.

What is the point? We aim to:

1) Identify perpetrators and protect victims
2) Establish the chain of accountability
3) Identify the vehicles to deliver justice and redress to the victims.
4) Influence positive change in laws and practice.
5) Draw attention to serious violations and accountability gaps,
6) Mobilize action nationally and internationally to grant justice to victims.

The ultimate goal of our work is preventing abuses or, at a minimum, mitigating and stopping violations when they do occur.