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The outbreak of the Libyan Civil War was followed by accusations of human rights violations by rebel forces opposed to Muammar Gaddafi, the Armed Forces and NATO. The alleged violations include rape, extrajudicial killings, ethnic cleansing, misconduct and bombings of civilians. Alleged human rights violations were committed by all sides during the conflict, including NATO, anti-Gaddafi forces, and pro-Gaddafi forces.[1]

Libyan Armed Forces

Claims of systematic shooting at protesters

Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, estimated that between 500 and 700 people were killed by Gaddafi's security forces in February 2011, before the rebels even took up arms. "Shooting at protesters was systematic," Moreno-Ocampo stated, discussing the Libyan government's response to the initial anti-government demonstrations.[2]

The Libyan government denied that they ordered killings of demonstrators in the early days of the uprising. They said that soldiers acted in self-defense as they were attacked by mobs.[3]

Moreno-Ocampo further stated that during the conflict, "War crimes are apparently committed as a matter of policy" by forces loyal to Gaddafi.[2] This is further supported by claims of Human Rights Watch, that 10 protesters, who had already agreed to lay down arms, were executed by a government paramilitary group in Bani Walid in May.[4]

In June 2011, a detailed investigation carried out by Amnesty International claimed that many of the allegations against Gaddafi and the Libyan state turned out to either be false or lack any credible evidence, noting that rebels at times appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence. According to the Amnesty investigation, the number of casualties was heavily exaggerated, some of the protesters may have been armed, "there is no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen," and there is no evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against crowds. It also doubted claims from the Western media that the protest movement was "entirely peaceful" and "presented no security challenge."[5]

However, in a later report from Amnesty International it was found that "al-Gaddafi forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), including war crimes, and gross human rights violations,which point to the commission of crimes against humanity. They deliberately killed and injured scores of unarmed protesters; subjected perceived opponents and critics to enforced disappearance and torture and other ill- treatment; and arbitrarily detained scores of civilians. They launched indiscriminate attacks and attacks targeting civilians in their efforts to regain control of Misratah and territory in the east. They launched artillery, mortar and rocket attacks against residential areas. They used inherently indiscriminate weapons such as anti-personnel land mines and cluster bombs,including in residential areas."[6]

In July 2011, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had an interview with Russia Today, where he denied the ICC's allegations that he or his father ordered the killing of civilian protesters. He pointed out that he was not a member of the government or the military, and therefore had no authority to give such orders. According to Saif, he made recorded calls to General Abdul Fatah Younis, who later defected to the rebel forces, in order to request not to use force against protesters, to which Younis responded that they were attacking a military site, where surprised guards fired in self-defense.[7][8]

Allegations of mass rape

A Libyan psychologist, Siham Sergewa, conducted a survey of refugees in Tunisia and Egypt to document the trauma of the civil war. Nearly 300 women were reported to have been raped. The real number could be much higher, considering the stigma attached to rape victims in Libyan society. Every single woman in the survey who admitted to being raped said they were raped by loyalist soldiers or militiamen.[9]

However, United Nations war-crimes expert M. Cherif Bassiouni, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International say that they have found no evidence of systematic rape conducted by the Libyan government. Amnesty International's Donatella Rovera said that the Benghazi rebels had knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence, quoting one example of pristine boxes of Viagra that the rebels said were found inside a totally burned out tank belonging to Gaddafi's troops. This raised serious doubts about the claim that Gaddafi handed out Viagra to his soldiers to enable them to rape more efficiently.[5][10][11]

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) collected testimony of eyewitness who reported that pro-Gaddafi forces transformed an elementary school into a detention site where they raped women and girls as young as 14 years old.[12] PHR also reports of honor killings that occurred in response to these rapes.[12][13]

Use of land mines as a means of war

Human Rights Watch has confirmed claims of rebels, that pro-Gaddafi forces used land mines frequently during the conflict. It found them on at least six different locations in Libya, mostly on frontlines of the Gaddafi forces. Among these land mines are not only anti-tank mines, but also anti-personnel mines, which can permanently pose a threat to civilians.[14] [15]

Shelling of civilian areas

Gaddafi forces have been accused by human-rights groups of shelling towns with heavy weapons, risking civilian lives indiscriminately. The most accusations refer to the siege of Misrata, accusing Gaddafi forces of targeting hospitals and civilian areas, also using internationally outlawed cluster bombs of Spanish production as ammunition, having risked the lives of civilians.[16] [17] [18]

Other abuses of non-combatants

A Human Rights Watch report documents the "unlawful occupation and terror of hospital staff" by pro-Government forces in Yafran in the western mountains, risking the lives of the patients and terrifying the staff contrary to international law.[19]

In August 2011, Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting severe violations of human rights and evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in Misrata. Findings included that Qaddafi forces used civilians as human shields, attacked ambulances bearing the Red Crescent, destroyed religious buildings, and intentionally starved civilians. In the same report, PHR gave evidence to violations of medical neutrality, such as attacks on medical facilities, medical transport, and medical workers.[12]

Anti-Gaddafi forces

Crimes against international humanitarian law

Execution of prisoners of war

A group of 15 to 22 Libyan army soldiers captured in Derna were reportedly executed in the neighboring village of Martuba. 20 kilometres (12 miles) [20] According to a widely circulated story, the men were claimed to have been "executed by their own officers for disobeying orders".[20]

Another group of 15 dark-skinned Libyan prisoners were publicly executed by hanging in front of the Bayda courthouse.[21]

Murder and torture of injured soldiers

On 17 February, the Bayda hospital admitted two injured men, one of darker complexion and the other of olive complexion. The men were accused of fighting against the rebels. A hospital doctor claimed that the black man was murdered and hung by an angry mob that had gathered around the hospital. The other injured man was reportedly beaten, shot and returned to the emergency room.[20]

Lootings and beatings

In four towns in the western mountains captured in June by the opposition, HRW noticed looting of private property and beatings of alleged Gaddafi sympathizers by rebel forces. The National Transitional Council (NTC) then pledged to hold responsible the causers of the attacks and to prevent such abuses in the future.[22]

Killing of civilians

During the Battle of Sirte, the rebels killed many civilians, including men, women, and children, while there were also reports of the rebels harassing and stealing from the locals. According to one resident, "The rebels are worse than rats. NATO is the same as Osama bin Laden." According to another local woman, "We lived in democracy under Muammar Gaddafi, he was not a dictator. I lived in freedom, Libyan women had full human rights. It isn't that we need Muammar Gaddafi again, but we want to live just as we did before." A local elderly woman stated "They are killing our children. Why are they doing this? For what? Life was good before!"[23]

NATO airstrikes

On 9 August, the Libyan government claimed that 85 civilians were killed in NATO airstrikes on the village of Majer near Zliten.[24] A NATO spokesman said that they were targeting four buildings in which nine vehicles were destroyed and that government claim "was not corroborated by available factual information at the site".[25] The Libyan government declared three days of national mourning. Reporters were later taken to a hospital where they saw at least 30 dead bodies, including the bodies of at least two young children. The Libyan government claimed that the bodies of others killed in the airstrikes were taken to other hospitals. Neither of these claims were independently verified,[26] although some media outlets came to the conclusion that it seemed more credible than usual that something tragic happened due to the presence of at least 14 bodies at one hospital, including an infant.[27]

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said a council-mandated investigation of NATO involvement in the Libyan Civil War is essential "given the fact that initially we were led to believe by NATO leaders there are zero civilian casualties of their bombing campaign."[28] The U.S. and France called Russia's demand for an investigation "a distraction"


Allegations of Human rights watch groups falsifying claims

Some journalists have accused human-rights organizations of falsifying [29] claims, that Gaddafi was using mercenaries from other parts of Africa to attack protesters,[30] however the presence of mercenaries from countries such as Chad, Niger, and Mali has been confirmed by Gaddafi's former Chief of Protocol Nouri Al Misrahi.[31]

Murder of guest workers and black Libyans

The Chadian government called on coalition forces to protect its citizens in rebel-held areas in Libya. It claimed that dozens had been accused and executed for allegedly being mercenaries in the pay of Gaddafi.[32]

A Turkish oil worker reported witnessing the murder of 70 to 80 Sudanese and Chadian guest workers with pruning shears and axes by Libyans who accused them of being Gaddafi mercenaries.[33]

HRW's Peter Bouckaert visited Bayda where 156 supposed mercenaries were being held captive. He reported that these men were actually black Libyans from Southern Libya. He argued that the support of the black southern Libyans for the Gaddafi regime was explainable, as Gaddafi fought to counter discrimination against them in Libyan society. In the same interview, Bouckaert also said that those 156 individuals were released by the rebels less than two weeks after being captured.[29]

Killings of unarmed migrant workers by insurgents have been described. On 18 April, a British reporter who had just arrived at Benghazi by sea from Misrata described the sufferings of large numbers of migrant workers trapped in Misrata in a broadcast on BBC Radio 4. After mentioning casualties during government forces attack he said about the migrant workers that "…some have also died in clashes with the, err, rebel fighters. They were protesting about the conditions, demanding that they should be repatriated and on a couple of occasions this has led to the rebels opening fire and, err, people dying."[34]


  1. Shabi, Rachel (19 January 2012). "Nato accused of war crimes in Libya". The Independent. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Simons, Marlise; MacFarquhar, Neil (4 May 2011). "Libyan Officials' Arrests Sought by Court in Hague". The New York Times. 
  3. Video (1 July 2011). "Gaddafi's Son: Libya Like McDonald's for NATO – Fast War as Fast Food" (requires Adobe Flash; 0:12:48). RT (via YouTube). Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  4. "Libya: 10 Protesters apparently executed". Human Rights Watch. 18 August 2011. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Cockburn, Patrick (24 June 2011). "Amnesty Questions Claim That Gaddafi Ordered Rape as Weapon of War". The Independent. London. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  6. Amnesty International, The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearances and Torture, 13 September 2011, MDE 19/025/2011
  7. "Gaddafi's son: Libya like McDonald's for NATO - fast war as fast food". Russia Today. 1 July 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 
  8. Smith, David (1 July 2011). "Gaddafi's son claims Nato wants deal with Libya". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  9. "Psychologist: Proof of Hundreds of Rape Cases During Libya's War". CNN. 23 May 2011. 
  10. Krause-Jackson, Flavia; Alexander, Caroline (6 July 2011). "Rape as Weapon of War Is UN Focus". Bloomberg. 
  11. Bassiouni, M. Cherif. "Report of the International Commission of Inquiry To Investigate All Alleged Violations of International Human Rights Law in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya". United Nations Human Rights Council (via Google Docs). Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Physicians for Human Rights. "Witness to War Crimes: Evidence from Misrata, Libya." Retrieved 2.28.2012.
  13. Liz Hazelton. "Father slit throats of three daughters in 'honour killing' after they were raped by Gaddafi's troops". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2.28.2012.
  14. "Government Using Landmines in Nafusa Mountains". Human Rights Watch. 21 June 2011. 
  15. "Government Lays More Mines in Western Mountains". Human Rights Watch. 8 July 2011. 
  16. "Libya: Government Attacks in Misrata Kill Civilians". Human Rights Watch. 10 April 2011. 
  17. "Libya: Rocket Attacks on Western Mountain Towns". Human Rights Watch. 27 May 2011. 
  18. "Libya: Indiscriminate Attacks Kill Civilians". Human Rights Watch. 17 April 2011. 
  19. "Libya: Gaddafi Forces Occupy Hospital, Terrify Patients and Staff". Human Rights Watch. 29 June 2011. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Smith, Graeme (1 April 2011). "A Rebellion Divided: Spectre of Revenge Killings Hangs Over Eastern Libya". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  21. Hauslohner, Abigail (23 February 2011). "Among Libya's Prisoners: Interviews with Mercenaries". Time magazine.,8599,2053490,00.html. 
  22. "Libya: Opposition Forces Should Protect Civilians and Hospitals". Human Rights Watch. 
  23. Sherlock, Ruth (2 October 2011). "Gaddafi loyalists stranded as battle for Sirte rages". London. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  24. "UPDATE 2-Libya says NATO strike kills dozens of civilians". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  25. "NATO: Libya airstrike killed troops, not civilians". USATODAY.COM. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  26. "WRAPUP 1-Tripoli says NATO strike kills dozens of civilians". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  27. The Christian Science Monitor. "Turmoil in Benghazi, rebel advances in western Libya". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  28. U.S. and France: No Need for Libya Investigation
  29. 29.0 29.1 Staff (2 March 2011). "HRW: No Mercenaries in Eastern Libya". Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  30. Fahim, Kareem; Kirkpatrick, David D. (23 February 2011). "In Libya's Capital, Qaddafi Masses Forces". The New York Times. 
  31. Namunane, Bernard (25 February 2011). "Kenya: 'Dogs of War' Fighting for Gaddafi". Daily Nation (via Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  32. Staff (4 April 2011). "Chad Says Citizens Abused in Rebel-Held Libya". Reuters. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  33. Quist-Arcton, Ofeibea (25 February 2011). "In Libya, African Migrants Say They Face Hostility". NPR. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  34. BBC Radio 4, "Today" programme, 18 April 2011; about 7.53 a.m. BST. Available on BBC iPlayer for UK listeners at

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