Fifteen humanitarian and human rights organisations have this week called on the states implementing the “no-fly zone” in Libya to commit to recording and reporting on civilian casualties in that country.
Their call comes in an open letter (text below) sent to all members of the UN Security Council, the Arab League and the African Union.
The international community’s intervention in Libya, mandated by UNSC 1973 and based on civilian protection, lacks any means by which such protection can be evaluated. In addition to the protection of civilians by ‘all necessary measures’, Resolution 1973 and 1970 mandate that those responsible for attacks on civilians ought to be held accountable, and that the Libyan authorities should comply with the international legal regime. Without a serious casualty reporting mechanism, it is hard to see how any of these mandates could be met to the satisfaction of all parties.
The co-signatories of the letter call for states to commit to: “immediate and comprehensive recording of all civilian casualties – whether children, women, or men, who have been killed injured, displaced, or who are missing. Monitoring should be done using all means presently available and be followed-up by full on-the-ground, incident-level investigations as soon as is feasible.”
The signatories further urge that the mechanisms employed be transparent and open to public scrutiny, in particular to Libyans.
The letter will remain open for further signatories.
Full text of the joint letter
To: The President of the UN Security Council
UN Ambassadors of States within the Security Council
Governments represented on the UN Security Council
Governments of Coalition forces involved in Libya
The Secretary General of the United Nations
The Secretary General of the Arab League
The Chairman of the African Union Commission
Casualty Recording in the Libya Conflict
We, the undersigned organisations, call on all parties to the armed conflict in Libya that, along with exercising every possible restraint in their conduct of military operations, they commit to recording and reporting on the civilian casualties of conflict from military operations in that country.
We define this as the immediate and comprehensive monitoring and documentation of all civilian casualties – whether children, women, or men who have been killed, injured, displaced, or who are missing. Monitoring should be done using all means presently available and be followed-up by full on-the-ground, incident-level investigations as soon as is feasible. We further urge that the mechanisms employed be transparent and open to public scrutiny, in particular to Libyans.
As a key element of humanitarian protection obligations, as well as the accountability that underpins good governance, whether by domestic parties to conflict or international state actors, it is of the utmost importance that civilian casualties are carefully and conscientiously monitored in any military action. This remains equally true when military intervention is proposed to protect civilians from further harm. Credible information on the nature and extent of civilian casualties is a crucial means by which to guide and to assess the efficacy of such interventions, including any operational precautions taken to minimise harm to civilians.
The UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on Libya passed on the 17th of March 2011 expresses “grave concern” at “heavy civilian casualties” in that country, asserts that its purpose is the protection of civilians, and demands a “complete end” to violence against them. Given its objectives and its implementation, SC Resolution 1973, by its own terms, requires a full and thorough investigation of its consequences for civilians.
Detailed monitoring and documentation of civilian casualties is also central to investigations into accountability as well as possible violations of international human rights and humanitarian law — which are also objectives in both SC Resolutions 1970 and 1973. This accountability applies to all parties to the armed conflict, including the Libyan armed forces under Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan opposition armed forces, and state armed forces acting under SC Resolution 1973.
A commitment to monitoring and fully documenting casualties would therefore be in accordance with, and of benefit to, the goals expressed in both SC Resolutions 1970 and 1973, as well as being consistent with the general principle of responsibility to protect. Specifically, it would safeguard:
Accounting for violence against civilians
‘Stressing the need to hold to account those responsible for attacks, including by forces under their control, on civilians...’ (SC Res. 1970)
Compliance with the international legal regime
‘Considering that the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity.’ (SC Res. 1970)
‘Demands that the Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law and take all measures to protect civilians…’ (SC Res.1973)
Accountability of Intervention
‘Authorizes Member States... to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya...’ (SC Res. 1973)
It should also be noted that the present lack of credible data on civilian casualties is compromising effective planning of a humanitarian response. Thus, thorough monitoring and documenting of casualties will serve the dual purpose of fulfilling those objectives built into SC Resolutions 1970 and 1973, whilst also informing humanitarian efforts when feasible.
The undersigned believe that the protection of civilians, which is an expressed goal of SC Resolution 1973, must be underpinned by a commitment from the parties to the conflict to reliable monitoring of the impact on civilians – monitoring which can only be achieved though the resolute and robust recording of casualties.
Director, Action On Armed Violence, UK
Director, Afghanistan Rights Monitor, Afghanistan
Executive Director, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, USA
Jorge A. Restrepo
Director, Conflict Analysis Resource Center, Colombia
Human Losses Research Coordinator, Documenta, Croatia
Executive Director, Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation, Guatemala
Dr Ghassan Elkahlout
Chief Executive Officer, Human Relief Foundation, UK
Executive Director, Human Rights Center, Georgia
Washington Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch, USA
Co-Founder, Iraq Body Count, UK
Phil ya Nangoloh
Executive Director, NamRights, Nambia
Dr Ian Davis
Director, NATO Watch, UK
Managing Director, Oxford Research Group, UK
President Managing Board, Research and Documentation Center, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Abdullahi Sheikh Abukar
Executive Director, Somali Human Rights Association, Somalia
Article source: Oxford Research Group
Image source: Defence Images