The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented 21 civilian casualties – eight deaths and 13 injuries – during the conduct of hostilities across Libya. Victims included six men and two women killed, and nine men, three women, a child injured.
The majority of civilian casualties were caused by shelling (six killed and seven injured), followed by gunfire (two killed and three injured) and explosive remnants of war (ERW, three injured).
UNSMIL documented civilian casualties in Tripoli (six killed and seven injured), Benghazi (one killed and two injured), Fezzan area (one killed), Sabha (three civilians injured), and Khoms (one civilian injured). Another 11 fighters died and 62 fighters were injured during the Tripoli fighting, while the civilian status of an additional one fatality could not be ascertained.
UNSMIL documented four additional casualties from other possible violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of international human rights law in Fezzan area, Benghazi and Sabha.
Civilian Casualty Incidents
Fighting between Tripoli-based armed groups, on the one hand, and the al-Kaniyat armed group and their allies, on the other hand, which started on 16 January, claimed at least six civilian lives and led to seven civilian injuries. The use of weapons with wide area impact and indiscriminate fire caused the majority of civilian casualties.
Deadly casualties on 16 January 2019 included the following: a man was killed inside his home in Ben Ghashir when a shell landed on his home in Ben Ghashir; a student at the University of Tripoli, Faculty of Economics, was killed at his home as result of incriminate shelling; and two women and an elderly man were killed in Ras Yusuf district while attempting to escape the shelling.
In addition, on 18 January 2019, the photojournalist Mohamed Ben Khalifa killed while on duty and as the military vehicle he was accompanying was hit by indiscriminate shelling in the Qasr Bin Ghashir area, south of Tripoli.
In terms of injuries, on 16 January 2019, a man sustained a shrapnel wound when indiscriminate shelling hit his vehicle in southern Tripoli. On the same day, an ambulance from the Tarhouna Emergency Department was hit by indiscriminate shelling, coming from an unidentified source. Two medical staff in the ambulance, who were on duty, were injured during the incident.
On 18 January 2019, three civilians, including two women and one man, were injured as a result of indiscriminate shelling that hit their vehicle. On the same day, three civilians were injured, including a female child, an elderly man and an elderly woman when their house was hit by indiscriminate shelling.
On 18 January 2019, at least one civilian was killed during the armed clashes between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and armed militants in the al-Gardha Ash Shatti district in the Fezzan region.
On 30 January 2019, three civilians collecting metal scraps were injured when an ERW detonated. The circumstances behind this explosion in Sabha are presently not known.
Civilian Facilities Incidents
On 10 January 2019, in Tripoli, unidentified armed men opened fire with an RPG rocket against the Siyahia branch of the Aman Bank. No casualties were reported apart from some damage to the building.
On 16 January 2019, an ambulance from the Tarhouna Emergency Department was reportedly hit by indiscriminate shelling coming from an unidentified source. Two medical staff in the ambulance, who were on duty, were injured during the incident (as mentioned above).
On 14 January 2019, in al-Sddadah district, southeast of Misrata, unidentified gunmen reportedly vandalized the man-made river water pipeline linking Qardabia to al-Saddadah. About 120 pressure valves were destroyed, likely impacting the water supply to the central region of Libya.
On 18 January 2019, Omar Ali Askar Hospital in Tripoli had to be evacuated after being encircled by clashes and hit by indiscriminate shelling. Four children, who were in-patients, were referred to al-Jala’a Pediatric Hospital in the capital. No casualties were reported apart from some damage to the building.
UNSMIL was unable to determine with certainty which parties to the conflict caused the other civilian casualties during the reporting period.
Casualties from other violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights
On 6 January 2019, a customs officer sustained a gunshot wound from unknown assailants while he was driving along the coastal road between Khoms and Zliten. The victim is believed to have suffered an assassination attempt related to his work at the Khoms port, where he previously had discovered a weapons shipment in December 2018.
On 22 January 2019, a man sustained a gunshot wound in Benghazi’s al-Majori neighborhood. The source of fire was unknown, and there were no clashes in the vicinity of the incident.
On 22 January 2019, a man sustained a gunshot wound in Benghazi’s Ras Abeida neighborhood. The source of fire was unknown, and there were no clashes in the vicinity of the incident.
On 22 January 2019, an 18-year-old man was killed by stray bullets in Tobruk. The source of fire was unknown, and there were no clashes in the vicinity of the incident.
The figures for civilian casualties set out above only include persons killed or injured in the course of hostilities and who were not directly participating in the hostilities. The figures do not include those casualties that are not a direct result of hostilities, for example executions after capture, torture or abductions, or casualties caused as an indirect consequence of hostilities. The figures are based on information UNSMIL has gathered and cross-checked from a broad range of sources in Libya, including human rights defenders, civil society, current and former officials, employees of local governments, community leaders and members, witnesses, others directly affected and media reports. In order to assess the credibility of information obtained, where possible, UNSMIL reviewed documentary information, including medical records, forensic reports and photographic evidence.
The figures are only those that UNSMIL was able to document in the reporting period. They are not likely to be complete and may change as new information emerges about incidents involving civilian casualties that took place during this period.
Similarly, while UNSMIL has systematically tried to ensure that the cases it documented are based on credible information, further verification would be required to attain a higher standard of proof. Due to the security situation, UNSMIL has not been able to carry out direct site visits to all relevant locations in Libya to obtain information. Fear of reprisals against sources further hamper information gathering.
While not all actions leading to civilian casualties breach international humanitarian law, UNSMIL reminds all parties to the conflict that they are under an obligation to target only military objectives. Direct attacks on civilians as well as indiscriminate attacks – which do not distinguish between civilians and fighters – are prohibited. Attacks that are expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects excessive to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage are also prohibited. Such attacks amount to war crimes that can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
In order to ensure greater protection of the civilian population and essential infrastructure, all parties engaged in fighting in Libya must cease the use of mortars and other indirect weapons and imprecise aerial bombardments in civilian-populated areas, and not place fighters or other military objectives in populated areas. All executions of captives must cease and all those captured including fighters must be treated humanely in all circumstances. Murdering or torturing captives is also a war crime, regardless of what the captive may be accused of.
Cases highlighted in the “Casualties from other violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights” section include casualties caused during incidents that would constitute a violation of international humanitarian or human rights law, but are not a direct result of hostilities, for examples executions upon capture of civilians and others hors de combat (such as captured fighters) and torture causing death. The section also includes casualties caused by the proliferation of weapons and impunity enjoyed by armed groups and criminal networks – considered as indirect consequences of hostilities. Cases highlighted in the “casualties from other violations” section are not included in the figures for civilian casualties and include only those that UNSMIL documented during the month.
Contact UNSMIL’s Human Rights Monitoring Team to report information on civilian casualties in Libya at the following email address: [email protected].