20 Apr 2011

Libya: attacks on Misrata ‘may be war crimes’

The Libyan Government’s shelling of rebel-held Misrata, including the targeting of hospitals and killing of civilians, could constitute crimes under international law, the UN human rights chief says.

After nearly two months of attacks, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has condemned the Libyan Government’s assault of the city, which included a cluster bomb that landed within metres of a hospital last week.

He said: “Under international law, the deliberate targeting of medical facilities is a war crime and the deliberate targeting or reckless endangerment of civilians may also amount to serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.”

Mr Pillay also voiced concerns about journalist safety in Libya. So far two have been killed and a further 16 are missing, including 10 members of the foreign press.

“Dozens of others have been detained, assaulted, physically abused – possibly to the point of torture – or expelled,” he warned.

Misrata siege

Misrata siege

For weeks the Western town of Misrata, which is in rebel control, has been the site of relentless shelling and attacks from pro-Gaddafi troops.

Channel 4 News has heard of impending humanitarian disaster and a “critical” situation from eyewitnesses, as well as harrowing testimony of the use of cluster bombs in the city which are being picked up by children.

One resident, known as Abdullah, told Channel 4 News on 15 April: “They are striking randomly – there so many casualties. I can’t give a final number while the battle is still going on.”

Read more in the Channel 4 News Special Report on the Libya war

International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has also raised further concerns of possible abductions and killings whilst asserting his belief that Libyan authorities had decided they would fire on unarmed protesters against Gaddafi‘s regime even before they had spread from Egypt and Tunisia.

The continued reports of widespread attacks from inside of Misrata culminated in British efforts, working alongside the International Organisation for Migration, to help evacuate up to 5,000 people from the stricken town with medical teams on the ground overwhelmed by the crisis.

On Wednesday a spokesman for the rebel National Council, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, told a news conference that rebels would accept foreign forces to protect a designated safe haven: “protecting civilians requires having safe passages to deliver humanitarian supplies .. if that does not come except through ground forces that will ensure this safe have, then there is no harm in that at all.”


Speaking anonymously to Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller in Tripoli on Wednesday, a man who described himself as a rebel fighter alleged that in recent weeks five thousand people had been arrested in the capital.

He claimed there were underground cells of armed rebels in Tripoli who were in contact with rebels in the east, as well as those in Misrata and Zawiyah, and threatened attacks on police checkpoints and the use of suicide bomb attacks.