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Libya: migrants’s detention center bombed: UN says attack could be war crime

Wednesday 3 July 2019, by siawi3

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-48854420

Libya migrants: UN says attack could be war crime

2.07.19 3 hours ago

VIDEOS here

Europe migrant crisis

Media captionPeople gathered outside the detention centre after the air strike

An attack which killed more than 44 migrants at a detention centre outside the Libyan capital could constitute a war crime, a UN official said.

At least 130 people were injured in the attack, which the Libyan government blamed on an air strike by forces loyal to a warlord, General Khalifa Haftar.

Gen Haftar’s forces accuse the government side of shelling the centre.

Most of the dead are believed to be sub-Saharan Africans who were attempting to reach Europe from Libya.

Thousands of migrants are being held in government-run detention centres in Libya. The location of the centre attacked on Tuesday and the information that it housed civilians had been passed to all parties in Libya’s conflict, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said.

“This attack may, depending on the precise circumstances, amount to a war crime,” she said. It was the second time the shelter was hit, she added.

Separately, the UN Security Council has changed its agenda, and will discuss the situation in Libya behind closed doors later today.

Libya has been torn by violence and division since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

Who is Libya’s military warlord Khalifa Haftar?
Why is Libya so lawless?
Libya country profile

What do we know about the attack?

A hangar housing migrants at the Tajoura Detention Centre, which houses 600 migrants, reportedly took a direct hit.

Women and children were among the victims, Guma El-Gamaty, a member of the UN-backed political dialogue group, told BBC World Service.

An official in the Libyan health ministry, Doctor Khalid Bin Attia, described the carnage for the BBC after attending the scene:

“People were everywhere, the camp was destroyed, people are crying here, there is psychological trauma, the lights cut off.”We couldn’t see the area very clear but just when the ambulance came, it was horrible, blood is everywhere, somebody’s guts in pieces.“The UN issued a stark warning in May that those living in the Tajoura centre should be moved immediately out of harm’s way.”The risks are simply unacceptable at this point," the UN refugee agency said.
Analysis: An inevitable tragedy

By Sebastian Usher, Arab affairs editor

The UN and aid agencies have been warning that a tragedy like this has been all but inevitable as the renewed fighting in and around Tripoli has put migrants held in detention camps directly in the line of fire.

The plight of migrants was already desperate, prey to human traffickers and militias.

The UN has said that the airstrike on Tajoura shows that the EU policy of sending people trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe back to Libya must be ended.

It’s been successful in radically cutting the numbers of those getting into Europe by that route – although others have since opened up. But humanitarian agencies say the human cost is too high.

With General Khalifa Haftar’s assault on Tripoli stalled, the chances are that his forces may resort to indiscriminate attacks that could endanger civilian lives further.

But the militias who hold the migrants in such appalling conditions, so close to what is now a frontline, must also take a share of the blame for what has happened.
Who is to blame?

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, accused the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) of carrying out an air strike on the centre.

The “heinous crime” was “premeditated” and “precise”, it said.
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption In Libya migrants are rounded up and held in government-run centres

The LNA - led by Gen Haftar - was fighting government forces in the area where the strike happened.

It had announced on Monday that it would start heavy air strikes on targets in Tripoli after “traditional means” of war had been exhausted.

The LNA said its warplanes had bombed a pro-government camp near the centre and pro-government forces had fired shells in response, hitting the migrant centre by accident.

A spokesman for the UN refugee agency, Charlie Yaxley, said it could not confirm who was behind the attack on the centre.

In a subsequent statement, the head of the UN Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salama, was quoted as saying: “This attack clearly could constitute a war crime, as it killed by surprise innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter.”
Why is there war in Libya?

No authority has full control over Libya and the country is extremely unstable, torn between several political and military factions, the two most important of which are led by Prime Minister Sarraj and Gen Haftar.

Gen Haftar started an offensive against the government in April.
Media captionLibya crisis: The fight for Tripoli explained from the frontline

The general has been active in Libyan politics for more than four decades and was one of Gadaffi’s close allies until a dispute in the late 1980s forced him to live in exile in the US.

After returning to Libya when the uprising began in 2011, he built up a power base in the east and has won some support from France, Egypt and the UAE.

Libyans have mixed feelings towards him due to his past association with Gadaffi and US connections, but do credit him for driving Islamist militants out of much of the city of Benghazi and its surroundings.
How vulnerable are migrants in Libya?

People-smuggling gangs have flourished in Libya’s political chaos, charging desperate migrants from sub-Saharan Africa thousands of dollars per head.
Media captionWomen and children are being held in camps close to fierce fighting in Libya

Human rights groups have highlighted the poor conditions at the detention centres where many migrants end up as the EU works with the Libyan coastguard to intercept migrant boats.

Italy, one of the main landing points for migrants from Libya, has taken a hard-line stance of closing its ports to humanitarian rescue boats, accusing them of aiding people smugglers. Instead, it wants to return any migrants found in open water to Libya - where most end up in detention centres.

Following Italy’s objections, the wider EU proposed a compromise solution of setting up EU “assessment centres” in countries like Libya, where applications for asylum could be processed on foreign soil in a bid to break up the smuggling operations. Such a move was resisted by Libyan officials.

As things stand, migrants are not treated with consideration when it comes to housing them, said Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration in Geneva.

“This detention centre is right beside a militia workshop that’s been targeted in the past and it’s been hit by shrapnel,” he said.

“Migrants who are trying to get to Europe get picked up typically by the Libyan coastguard. They’re brought back to land and then they’re brought usually by bus to any of up to 60 detention centres around the city. It’s really not a good situation.”

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Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/03/air-strike-kill-libya-tripoli-migrant-detention-centre

UN calls for inquiry into Libya detention centre bombing

Attack widely blamed on warlord Khalifa Haftar, which left at least 44 dead, labelled ‘war crime’

Patrick Wintour

Wed 3 Jul 2019 18.57 BST
First published on Wed 3 Jul 2019 04.20 BST

Video here1:08
Tripoli detention centre hit by airstrike, killing at least 44 people – video

The United Nations has called for an independent inquiry into the bombing of a Libyan migrant detention centre that left at least 44 dead and more than 130 severely injured, describing the attack as “a war crime and odious bloody carnage†.

The detention centre east of Tripoli was housing more than 610 people when it was hit by two airstrikes. The bombing was attributed to the air force of Gen Khalifa Haftar by the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, as well as by the UN-recognised Government of National Accord.

The GNA has been defending Tripoli from an assault launched by Haftar’s Libyan National Army on 4 April that has left hundreds of people dead.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, called for an independent investigation into the “outrageous†bombing. UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said the secretary general condemned “this horrendous incident in the strongest terms†.

The death toll, which includes many women and children, represents one of the largest single losses of civilian life since the civil war in 2011.

The air raid, involving two missiles, occurred in the early hours of Wednesday morning and left the detention centre a charred ruin. The LNA had on Monday warned that it was stepping up air raids on the capital in response to recent military reverses.

The commander of LNA’s air force operations room, Maj Gen Mohamed Manfour, had warned that as part of “exhausting all traditional means†to capture Tripoli, LNA would conduct “strong and decisive airstrikes†against select targets.

The UN refugee agency had previously called for people to be removed from the detention centre in Tajoura, expressing fears that they were likely to be victims of air raids being mounted by Haftar’s air force. The detention centre is close to a military supply depot for militia working to protect the GNA.

Condemning the destruction, the UN special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, said: “This attack clearly could constitute a war crime, as it killed by surprise innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter. The absurdity of this ongoing war today has led this odious bloody carnage to its most hideous and most tragic consequences.â€

The international outcry, including an emergency closed session of the UN security council, will put pressure on Haftar’s backers, notably the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, to withdraw their support, or at least demand an end to the nightly air raids.

The UAE is already facing a threat of a US congressional ban on US arms sales amid claims, denied by the UAE, that arms supplied by the US have been transferred to Haftar for his assault on Tripoli. The UN has imposed an arms embargo on Libya.

The multiple calls for an inquiry into the attack on the detention centre were led by the UN secretary general, the African Union and the European Union, and supported by individual states including Germany, France, Turkey, Qatar and the UK.

Salvini, criticised across Europe for his refusal to allow migrant ships from Libya to dock in Italy, was the most forthright, saying: “Haftar is responsible for a criminal attack … I hope there is no one left, and I do not mention the French, who for economic and commercial reasons support an attack on civilian targets.†Italy has repeatedly accused France of covertly helping Haftar, and his claim to be leading a fight against Islamists and terror.

The EU defended itself from claims that it was responsible for the plight of the migrants in Libya by backing Libyan coastguard efforts to deter the migrants from reaching Europe.

Calling for an independent investigation, the EU said: “We have sought to evacuate refugees and migrants from the detention centres near the frontline. Where possible, we have enabled them to find safety outside Libya – these efforts must continue and be stepped up urgently.

“Unfortunately, many more are at risk and should be transferred to safe places swiftly so they can receive assistance and be evacuated.â€

Libyan Red Crescent workers recover bodies after the airstrike at a detention centre in Tajoura. Photograph: Hazem Ahmed/AP

The UN refugee agency said it had called for migrants to be removed from the base. It said some 3,300 migrants and refugees remained arbitrarily detained inside and around Tripoli in conditions that could only be described as inhumane. It added that migrants and refugees faced increasing risks as clashes intensified nearby and called for the centres to be closed.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army said the attack may have been committed by the GNA missiles, a claim that led some countries to hold back from identifying LNA culpability, at least until an inquiry was complete.

The LNA operations centre said: “After the precision airstrike on the ammunition stores at al-Dhaman Camp in Tajoura, the militias shelled the migrants’ centre, as usual, to look for an excuse to deceive public opinion.â€

In a statement, the GNA denounced the attack as a “heinous crime†and blamed it on the “war criminal Khalifa Haftar†. It accused pro-Haftar forces of having carried out a “premeditated†and “precise†attack on the detention centre.

The NGO Exodus claimed that Haftar’s forces were responsible for the raid, but said: “The bombardment, however criminal, is due to the equally criminal practice implemented by GNA forces of Fayez al-Sarraj to use migrants as human shields, hiding militias and armaments inside detention centres crowded with migrants.â€

The group said it had been warning European leaders for two months that people in the detention centres were in danger from the air raids, but that its pleas had been met only with “grim political calculation†.