From 1 March to 31 March 2018, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented 16 civilian casualties – five deaths and 11 injuries – during the conduct of hostilities across Libya, a significant drop from the two previous months. Victims included three men, one woman and one girl killed and three men, one woman, four boys and three girls injured.
[This is down from 13 deaths and 133 injuries in February.]
The majority of civilian casualties were caused by shelling (two deaths and seven injuries), followed by gunfire (two deaths), explosive remnants of war (ERW, one death), and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED, one injury). The exact causes of one death and three injuries was unknown
UNSMIL documented civilian casualties in Sabha (four killed and eight injured), Derna (two injured), Benghazi (one killed) and Ajdabiya (one injured).
UNSMIL documented four additional casualties from other possible violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of international human rights law in al-Zawiya, Benghazi and Sabha.
Civilian Casualty Incidents
Between 6 and 24 March, intermittent clashes in Sabha between Awlad Suleiman and Tebu tribal armed groups and their allies claimed at least four civilian lives and eight civilian injuries. Casualties occurred as a result of the use of indiscriminate fire in densely populated areas, as well as reports of sniper shootings at civilians or civilian vehicles. Civilian casualties in Sabha included a 6 year-old-girl killed and three other children injured on 6 March in the Hajara neigbourhood when a shell hit their temporary refuge. They had earlier fled their homes in the area of Tayouri due to clashes. On 7 March, a Tebu man was killed by multiple gunshots in southern Sabha. On 10 March, an 11-year-old girl sustained shrapnel injuries in the shelling of her home. On 11 March, a woman was killed while her husband, a doctor from Gatroun, and their two children were injured when their moving vehicle came under fire in south-eastern Sabha. On 18 March, a 46-year-old man of Arab origin sustained minor injuries when a shell, hit his residence. On 24 March, an unidentified man, likely to have been a Sub-Saharan African migrant worker, was killed in the shelling of the Hajara neighbourhood.
On 4 March, a woman and her daughter sustained minor shrapnel injuries when their home in western Derna was hit by an unknown projectile. The outskirts of Derna have witnessed sporadic fighting between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council.
On 20 March, a Palestinian man and long-term resident of Benghazi, was killed when an unknown explosive detonated in his home in the area of Sabry, site of protracted fighting between the LNA and the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) and their allies.
On 29 March, a civilian sustained a minor injury when a VBIED detonated at a checkpoint east of Ajdabiya. The attack also left six LNA affiliated military personnel dead and another nine injured.
The BRSC and allies are believed to have been responsible for leaving mines and ERWs in areas of Benghazi they controlled prior to their retreat.
The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the VBIED attack on the checkpoint east of Ajdabiya through the “Amaq News Agency”.
UNSMIL was unable to determine with certainty which parties to the conflict had caused the other civilian casualties in March.
Casualties from other violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights
On 4 March, a man was shot dead by unidentified gunmen inside his Sabha shop. On 23 March, a 52-year-old man was shot in the neighbourhood of Manshia in Sabha. During both incidents, there were no armed clashes in the vicinity. The two killings are not believed to have been linked to the ongoing armed conflict in Sabha.
On 18 March, a university student from al-Zawiya was gunned down on the street by a member of an armed group. The motive of the killing remains unclear.
On 25 March, the body of a member of the Special Forces, believed to have been a medical professional, was uncovered in al-Kuweifiya inside his vehicle. He suffered from multiple gunshot wounds. A number of suspects have been arrested in Benghazi in relation to 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 “other casualties” section are not included in the figures for civilian casualties and include only those that UNSMIL documented during the month.