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Take Responsibility for Civilian Deaths, Group Tells NATO

Human Rights Watch says 72 Libyan civilians were killed during NATO's assault on Libya last year, including 20 women and 24 children.

- Common Dreams staff

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has failed to acknowledge dozens of civilian casualties from air strikes during its 2011 assault on Libya, and has not investigated possible unlawful attacks, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The funeral in Majer for 34 victims of a NATO air strike on two rural compounds on August 8, 2011. (© 2011 Sidney Kwiram/Human Rights Watch) The 76-page report, “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” examines in detail eight NATO air strikes in Libya that resulted in 72 civilian deaths, including 20 women and 24 children. It is based on one or more field investigations to each of the bombing sites during and after the conflict, including interviews with witnesses and local residents.

“Attacks are allowed only on military targets, and serious questions remain in some incidents about what exactly NATO forces were striking,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch and principal author of the report.

NATO officials told Human Rights Watch that all of its targets were military objectives, and thus legitimate targets. But it has not provided specific information to support those claims, mostly saying a targeted site was a “command and control node” or “military staging ground.”  Survivors of the airstrikes denied those charges.

“I’m wondering why they did this; why just our houses?” said Muammar al-Jarud, who lost his mother, sister, wife, and 8-month-old daughter. “We’d accept it if we had tanks or military vehicles around, but we were completely civilians, and you can’t just hit civilians.”

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Agence France-Presse reports:

HRW reported a higher death toll than an investigation conducted by Amnesty International, which said in March that 55 people, including 16 children and 14 women, were killed in strikes in Tripoli and the towns of Zliten, Majer, Sirte and Brega.

The NATO campaign, which was authorised by the United Nations, played a key role in helping rebels bring down dictator Moamer Kadhafi, but it left a deep rift in the UN Security Council.

Russia, China, South Africa and India all say NATO's tactics breached UN resolutions, but the Western alliance insists that its action were legal and saved civilians from a massacre.

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Associated Press adds:

The deadliest attack recorded by the rights group was in the rural village of Majer, south of the former rebel stronghold of Zlitan.

The first bomb hit a large, two-story house owned by Ali Hamid Gafez, a 61-year-old farmer. It was crowded with people who had fled the fighting in nearby areas. That was followed by three more bombs that killed 34 people killed, including many who had rushed to the site to help after the earlier explosions.

Human Rights Watch said it visited the area the day after the Aug. 8, 2011, strikes and found no evidence of military activity, although it did find one military-style shirt in the rubble.

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