UN wants accountability for detention centre air strikes


Warring parties in Libya, as well as foreign governments supporting them, were urged to investigate deadly air strikes last July which killed at least 53 migrants and refugees at a detention centre in the north-west of the country.

The appeal was made by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN human rights office in Geneva, which this week published a joint report calling for accountability for the attack targeting the Daman building complex, which houses the detention centre.

“As said previously, the Tajoura attack, depending on precise circumstances, may amount to a war crime,” Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.

“Libyans, migrants and refugees are trapped amid violence and atrocities in turn fuelled by impunity. Those guilty of crimes under international law must be held to account.”

‘Tragic example’ of use of air power

The Daman complex is in Tajoura, a town in the Tripoli of north-western Libya, comprises facilities belonging to the Government of National Accord (GNA).

The UN-backed administration is battling the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), aligned with a rival government in Benghazi.

Fighting intensified in April 2019, after the LNA laid siege to southern Tripoli.

An attack was made on the Daman complex on 2 July when an “air-delivered bomb” struck a vehicle repair workshop operated by the Daman Brigade, an armed group allied with the GNA, according to the report.

Minutes later, a second strike hit the Tajoura detention centre, a large hangar which at the time held over six hundred migrants and refugees. Three sections of the building were impacted.

One section housing 126 people sustained a direct hit. Forty-seven men and six boys were killed and 87 other male migrants and refugees were injured.

It was one of the deadliest incidents since the restart of hostilities in April.

The report found while it appeared the air strikes were conducted by aircraft belonging to a foreign State, “it remains unclear whether these air assets were under command of the LNA or were operated under command of a foreign State in support of the LNA.”

Regardless, international humanitarian law still applies. The report stated parties to the conflict knew the precise location and co-ordinates of the detention centre, which was hit months before.

Air strikes responsible for most civilian casualties
“The July 2019 attack at Tajoura is a tragic example of how air power has become a dominant feature in Libya’s civil conflict and the dangers and direct consequences on civilians of foreign interference”, UNSMIL chief Ghassan Salamé said.

“This is why commitments made in Berlin on 19 January to end interference and uphold the UN arms embargo must take hold.”

The international community met in the German capital to find a political solution to end the Libya crisis, which has seen increasing foreign interference.

The UN joint report found at least 287 civilians were killed and around 369 others injured last year alone, with air strikes accounting for 60% of casualties.

New attack condemned

The situation shows no sign of abating as UNSMIL this week condemned a missile attack on Mitiga Airport. At least two civilians were injured, while tarmac and several buildings were damaged.

“UNSMIL reiterates attacks against civilian targets, especially public facilities, are a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law and repeated attacks against Mitiga Airport deprived two million residents in Tripoli of their only functioning airport,” the mission said in a statement on Twitter.