From 1 February to 31 March 2019, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented civilian casualties – 20 deaths and 69 injuries - during the conduct of hostilities across Libya. Victims included 12 men, four women, and four children killed, and 60 men, two women, and seven children injured. The majority of civilian casualties were caused by shelling (11 killed and 51 injured), followed by gunfire (nine killed and 15 injured) and explosive remnants of war (ERW, three injured).
UNSMIL documented civilian casualties in Derna (seven killed and 30 injured), Benghazi (one killed and 13 injured), Murzuq (10 killed and 26 injured), and Sabratha (two killed).
UNSMIL's report also includes casualties from other possible violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of international human rights law in Benghazi, Sabratha and Murzuq.
Casualties from unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO)
On 4 February 2019, three boys aged between 9 and 15 years, were injured when an unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO) detonated in Benghazi’s Kuweifiya area as they were collecting scrap metal.
Fighting between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Derna Protection Force (DPF), previously known as the Derna Mujahidin Shura Council, resulted in at least seven deaths and 30 injuries to civilians. Most civilian casualties were caused by indiscriminate fire and unguided weapons, such as artillery and mortars, as the LNA increased its operations to gain control of Derna’s Old City. While it remains difficult to verify casualty figures, UNSMIL received the following reports:
On 2 February 2019, at least four women and three infants were killed as the LNA shelled Derna’s Old City. On 9 February 2019, it was reported that 30 civilians, including one woman, were injured when the LNA shelled Derna’s Old City.
The LNA and local affiliates pursued their advance in southern Libya. On 1 February 2019, LNA-affiliated forces moved from Sabha towards the southwestern town of Ghodwa to attack Tebu forces from the Murzuq’s Southern Protection Force and Chadian armed elements. UNSMIL recorded the following civilian casualties during the period:
On 3 February 2019, four civilians were killed and 19 others injured after an LNA airstrike in Murzuq.
On 17 February 2019, also in Murzuq, the LNA launched an airstrike at night, hitting Zawiat Zala’s block 17, killing at least one male civilian and injuring two children.
On 4 March 2019, one male civilian was injured when an armed group fired at houses in Umm al-Araneb’s Project 5 neighborhood.
On 5 March 2019, unidentified armed men opened fire with a rocket-propelled grenade against a group of civilians watching a football game, killing at least three young boys and injuring four others near the Murzuq football field.
On 9 March 2019, unidentified gunmen opened fire and killed a civilian as he was driving from Murzuq to Traghen.
Incidents against civilian infrastructure
On 9 February 2019, an LNA airstrike hit the runway of the al-Feel oil field in southwestern Libya, damaging the facility. No civilian casualties were reported. On 13 February 2019, foreign workers present at the al-Feel oil field were evacuated over concerns for their security; local workers remained in place.
On 12 February 2019, the LNA entered the Sharara oil field, further to negotiations with Petroleum Facilities Guards. On 17 February 2019, the LNA issued a directive ordering the handover of the oil field to the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and lifting the force majeure status to allow for the resumption of oil production. However, the NOC maintained its position that the force majeure status would not be lifted as long as the security of its employees was not guaranteed.
On 6 March 2019, in Tripoli, unidentified armed men opened fire against the Suq al-Ahad grocery market. No casualties were reported, although the building sustained some damage. The gunmen also blocked the market's main entrance and the headquarters of the neighboring tax collection office .
On the same day, in Sirte, the Sirte Protection Force blocked access to the city’s public facilities, including the electricity generating station, to protest against the GNA’s failure to pay salaries for the last 14 months.
On 14 March 2019, in Gharyan, the al-Qarya armed group – recently affiliated to the LNA - attacked a governmental building near the municipal council in response to the detention of one of its battalion leaders in Tripoli. No casualties were reported, although some property damage was sustained.
On 16 March 2019, in Bani Walid, unidentified gunmen reportedly vandalized a historic building following a visit by the GNA Ministry of Culture.
On 30 March 2019, in Sirte, a home-made Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated at the Kortoba’s Mosque. The explosion resulted in property damage. No casualties were reported.
The LNA and its affiliates are believed to be responsible for the casualties documented in southern Libya, including airstrikes against Murzuq.
UNSMIL was unable to determine with certainty which parties to the conflict caused the other civilian casualties reported during the period.
Casualties from other violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights
On 1 February 2019, a 22-year-old woman was injured by a stray bullet in Benghazi’s al-Kish area. There were no clashes in the vicinity at the time of the incident, and the source of fire was unknown.
On 4 February 2019, a 39-year-old man was injured by a stray bullet in Benghazi’s al-Hadiq area. The source of fire was unknown, and there were no clashes in the vicinity of the incident.
On 17 February 2019, a 17-year-old boy was injured by stray bullets in Benghazi’s Buzgiba neighborhood and subsequently taken to al-Jalla Hospital for medical treatment. The source of fire was unknown, and there were no clashes in the vicinity of the incident.
On 23 February 2019, a 7-year-old boy was injured by stray bullets in Benghazi’s al-Lithi neighborhood. The source of fire was unknown, and there were no clashes in the vicinity of the incident.
On 24 February 2019, the Murzuq security director was killed in an attack by an unknown armed group.
On 26 February 2019, an engineer was killed in an attack by an unknown armed group in the al-Majori neighborhood of Benghazi. The source of fire was unknown.
On 27 February 2019, two brothers were killed by an unknown armed group in the center of Sabratha. According to sources, they were attacked by an unknown armed group on the side of the road in the city center; their bodies showed signs of torture.
On 12 March 2019, six civilians, including five men and a 15-year-old boy, sustained injuries from stray bullets in Benghazi’s al-Salmani neighborhood. 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 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 Government officials, local Government employees, 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 violate 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].