On March 4, 2013, ‘rebel’ groups overran government forces in al-Raqqa city, the first provincial capital and only urban center to fall to the armed groups since the start of the Western-backed insurgency in Syria.
Archives For war crimes
In the two videos below, uploaded to YouTube, we see prisoners, including wounded, being killed in cold blood.
The unit involved is the Dawud Battalion led by Hassan Aboud (and possibly elements of the Al Khamsa and Ansar Al Haq Battalions) of the Sham Falcons Brigade (Suqur al-Sham). The Sham Falcons Brigade is one of the largest formations of rebels in Syria and commanded by Ahmed Abu Issa (real name Al Moujahed Sheykh Ahmed) who is also the head of the Syrian Liberation Front, probably the biggest alliance of rebels, reportedly supplied by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
As is now well documented, the rebellion in Libya began with violent attacks on police stations, such as this one in Al-Bayda where people locked inside were reportedly burnt to death:
An intensive propaganda campaign systematically distorted the facts on the ground, including in particular allegations that the Libyan airforce was bombing peaceful protestors and that Libyan soldiers were being massacred for not shooting on unarmed protestors (since proven to have been a false flag operation). This propaganada allowed a mobilisation of the international community and the passing of UN Resolution 1973 which imposed the No-Fly Zone.
It is UN Resolution 1973 which NATO argues provides the legal basis for the coalition operation in Libya as NATO makes clear in their Factsheet on Operation Unified Protector:
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 mandates “all necessary measures” to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or threat of attack. In line with this authorisation, NATO conducts reconnaissance, surveillance and information-gathering operations to identify those forces which present a threat to civilians and civilian-populated areas.
Notwithstanding this NATO supported the rebels as they escalated the level of violence directed against those who opposed them, civilians and guest workers with attacks using Grad rockets, artillery, tanks and mortars – in fact any weapons that could be looted from arms dumps or supplied by NATO, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Here is an early example from Misrata of rebel forces nonchantly firing mortars, in between drinking cups of tea:
With the brutal assault on Sirte, which is facing a bombardment from the air, surpassing Guernica, the indiscriminate assaults on civilian areas are now being taken to a higher level:
As we have seen, NATO’s official justification for their operations includes a requirement “to identify those forces which present a threat to civilians or civilian-populated areas.”
Furthermore the justification includes this:
Targeting depends on the decisions of operational commanders. Targets struck to date have included tanks, armoured personnel carriers, air-defence systems and artillery around and approaching key civilian areas including Misrata, Ajdabiyah and Zintan. [My emphasis]
Yet clearly NATO is supporting the rebel use of tanks and artillery around and approaching the key civilian area of Sirte; indeed NATO and its allies are almost certainly supplying the ammunition for these big guns.
Many journalists are having trouble processing this information, let alone communicating it to their readership, as it does not fit in with the overriding paradigm of an operation “intended to protect civilians.”
It remains to be seen, which journalists have the intelligence to realise that the old paradigm is dead and the courage to communicate this fact to their readers. A new paradigm is required, a new framework to understand the NATO war on Libya, one which recognises that the mantra of “responsibity to protect civilians” which NATO repeats at every press conference and in every press release is nothing more than:
1) A propaganda device, aimed at the fooling the public into supporting a war of aggression.
2) A legal device whereby the NATO command seeks to escape responsibility for war crimes.
On Saturday 17th September, as reported by Al Jazeera, Ahmed Bani, the interim government’s military spokesman, said gave army personnel still loyal to Gaddafi a last chance to join the ranks of former rebel fighters:
“The soldiers and officers who will not heed this last call will be accused of high treason.”
The invocation of high treason in civil war (“non-international armed conflict”) situations is a highly disreputable manoevre designed to deny any legal obligations to adversaries due under international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977.
It is worth noting the irony given that
- Oran’s Dictionary of the Law (1983) defines treason as “…[a]…citizen’s actions to help a foreign government overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure the [parent nation].”
- It was allegedly the very prospect of the old government using excessive force in suppressing rebellion which motivated the rebellion in the first place.
The dangers of the path being pursued by Ahmed Bani (and his NATO advisors presumably) is that this course of action (and this is well established in the annals of history), tends to lead to a situation where each side:
“sinks into barbarity and tries to outdo each other in the cruelty of their reprisals.” (Bluntschli, Das moderne Völkerrecht der civilisirten Staaten als Rechtsbuch dargestellt, 1868,288, para.512)
The Geneva Conventions
Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 sets minimum standard for the use of civil war opponents:
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed ‘’hors de combat” by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
Given the situation on the ground in Libya, and the certainty of further atrocities if a ceasefire and negotiated solution is not found, and the real danger of genocide against certain tribes, Human Rights Investigations again appeals strongly for an immediate end to the NATO bombing, (which has unfortunately just been extended) a ceasefire and negotiated end to the conflict.
Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News reports – and probably saves the lives of nine Nigerian men.
Human Rights Investigations warned that the failure to find a political solution and the entry of rebels into Tripoli would lead to a humanitarian disaster – and that is what has unfolded.
Here are more reports on the situation:
NATO backed rebels storm the district of Abu Salim. Black men are rounded up and forced to chant rebel slogans:
WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEOS
More black men being rounded up from Al Jazeera
AL Jazeera reports from the Abu Salim hospital where according to Kim Sengupta of The Independent rebels executed patients:
“Come and see. These are blacks, Africans, hired by Gaddafi, mercenaries,” shouted Ahmed Bin Sabri, lifting the tent flap to show the body of one dead patient, his grey T-shirt stained dark red with blood, the saline pipe running into his arm black with flies. Why had an injured man receiving treatment been executed? Mr Sabri, more a camp follower than a fighter, shrugged. It was seemingly incomprehensible to him that anything wrong had been done.
Unfortunately, most of the media, with a few honorable exceptions, has chosen to downplay or totally ignore the attacks on black people in the city, derided any possibility of a peaceful solution and focused entirely on massacres allegedly committed by the western-trained (link to new wikileaks cable) Libyan army.
30 August: More honest reporting from Patrick Coburn in The Independent:
But the Libyan rebels are hostile to black Africans in general. One of the militiamen, who have been in control of the police station since the police fled, said simply: “Libyan people don’t like people with dark skins, though some of them may be innocent.”
Going by Mr Bahr’s experience, any black African in Libya is open to summary arrest unless he can prove that he was not a member of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.
More bombings in Zlitan / Zliten / زليتن
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT (DEAD CHILDREN):
The reaction of the Libyan government spokesperson:
Tweet of UK Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer and Ministry of Defence spokesman on military operations:
At the 9 August NATO press conference, NATO spokesman, Colonel Roland Lavoie, said there had been attacks on two “huge agricultural buildings” with “military tents and temporary accommodation” beside them in Zlitan at 11.30 pm, 11.45 pm and 2.34 am local times the night before.
He was aware of the reports of patients in the Zlitan hospital being ill or dead. He had not yet received a battle damage assessment but there was
“no evidence so far that has reached us that could suggest there have been civilian casualties.”
Update 14 August: According to an article in the Eastern Daily Post the NATO planes involved in this raid were RAF Tornados which flew the 3,000 miles of this mission from RAF Marham in Norfolk supported by VC10 and TriStar aerial refuelling tankers attacking what they describe as a “staging post” in Zlitan.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Extracts from the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya directly relevant to the use of cluster munitions in Libya:
With regard to the use of weaponry, the commission is concerned that the Libyan authorities have not been making appropriate and precautionary assessments which would, in the commission’s view, militate against the use of weapons such as mortars in densely populated urban areas. The commission is also concerned about reports of the use of weapons such as expanding bullets, cluster munitions and phosphorous weapons in highly populated areas. Further investigation, however, including forensic analysis, would be needed to confirm the use of these ammunitions.
With regard to allegations concerning the conduct of hostilities by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the commission is not in a position at this stage to assess the veracity of the information received concerning indiscriminate attacks on civilians. The commission has not, however, seen evidence to suggest that civilians or civilian objects have been intentionally targeted by NATO forces, nor that it has engaged in indiscriminate attacks.
Finally, the commission feels that, at this stage, it is not in a position to identify those responsible, as requested by the Human Rights Council in the resolution establishing its mandate.
The commission, in view of the time frame within which it has had to complete its work, and considering the gravity and the complexity of the situation, recommends that the Human Rights Council remain seized of the situation by extending the mandate of the commission or by establishing a mechanism with the ability to continue the necessary investigations into both the human rights and humanitarian law situations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for a period of one year.
185. Cluster munitions. The Commission is aware of reports of the use of cluster munitions by pro-Government forces in their attempt to regain control of the besieged city of Misrata. On 15 April 2011, HRW reported that Government forces had fired cluster munitions in residential neighborhoods of Misrata further specifying that the cluster munitions were Spanish produced MAT 120mm mortar projectile, which open in mid-air and release 21 submunitions over a wide area.241 Other independent sources including Amnesty International have confirmed the incident and stated that Spain sold such munitions to Libya in 2007. Further investigation, including military and forensic pathologist expertise is, however, required to confirm or deny the usage of cluster munitions.
241 Upon exploding on contact with an object, each submunition disintegrates into high-velocity fragments to attack people and releases a slug of molten metal to penetrate armored vehicles. Human Rights Watch, “Libya: Cluster Munitions Target Misrata,” 15 April 2011, available from
188. Mortars: Based upon the facts available to it, the Commission believes that Government forces of Libya utilized mortars in their attacks on Misrata and Zintan. Mortars are weapons that kill or maim whoever is within the impact zone after they explode and they are unable to distinguish between combatants and civilians. A decision to deploy them in a location where a large number of civilians is likely to be present, is a decision that a commander should know will result in the death and/or and injuries of some of those civilians.
189. From the information available to it, the Commission is concerned that the Libyan authorities have not been undertaking appropriate and precautionary assessments which would, in the Commission’s view, militate against the use of weapons, such as mortars, in densely urban areas. The Commission is also concerned about reports of the use of weapons such as expanding bullets, cluster munitions or phosphorous weapons within highly populated areas. Further investigation, however, including forensic analysis would be needed to confirm the usage of these ammunitions.