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Rights group claims government attacks on Libya civilians violate international law

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] asserted Monday that indiscriminate government attacks on Libyan civilians violate international humanitarian law [press release]. The attacks, led by forces supporting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] have claimed more than 250 civilian lives within the last month in the city of Misrata. According to international law, attacks from either party in conflict that do not differentiate between civilians and combatants are impermissible. Furthermore, the law requires that any force applied must take all measures to reduce the harm of civilians. Although the Libyan government denies using indiscriminate force on citizens, many civilians have reported abuse such as shootings in medical facilities and populated areas where there is no threat of of war. The ensuing violence is a large concern for HRW particularly because the government has blocked the city from receiving humanitarian aid. HRW claims this is yet another reason why the Libyan government is in violation of international law because conflicting parties must allow humanitarian organizations to provide quick and unimpeded aid to civilians.

Attacks on civilians have been the center of several investigations into human rights abuses in Libya. Earlier this month, the UN announced that investigators would enter Libya [JURIST report] to begin looking into alleged human rights abuses by both rebels and the armed forces. Last month, International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official websites] announced that Libyan officials could face war crimes charges [JURIST report] for attacks on civilians. Additionally, the ICC launched a probe to investigate allegations [JURIST report] of crimes against humanity by the Libyan government. Moreno-Ocampo specifically identified Gaddafi, his sons and his political allies as targets of the investigation and warned Libyan officials that complicity in such abuses would result in prosecution. The UN General Assembly has voted to suspend Libya [JURIST report] from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] in response to the violent suppression of peaceful protesters by forces loyal to Gaddafi. The ICC has also said that it will not grant immunity [JURIST report] to any person perpetrating crimes against humanity in Libya.

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