NATO must take all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties during military operations, Amnesty International said today, after allegations by Libyan officials loyal to Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi that 85 people were killed during an air strike on Monday night.
The organization called on NATO to thoroughly investigate allegations of the deaths of unarmed civilians during the air strike in the area of Majar, south of Zlitan city.
Independent journalists taken to the scene reported having been shown up to 30 body bags, of which the bodies of two women and two children were revealed
On Tuesday, NATO military spokesperson Colonel Roland Lavoie said the “legitimate target” of the strike was several farm buildings taken over by al-Gaddafi forces and said that he had "no evidence of civilian casualties."
"NATO must take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties, even in those cases where al-Gaddafi forces are using civilian facilities for military purposes," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International.
"NATO continues to stress its commitment to protect civilians. To that effect, it should thoroughly investigate this and all other recent incidents in which civilians were reportedly killed in western Libya as a result of air strikes."
On 2 August, Amnesty International wrote to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asking for clarification on incidents in June in which unarmed civilians were reportedly killed and injured in Surman and Tripoli.
On 19 June, several civilians were reportedly killed, including two children and a woman, when a projectile struck their homes in Tripoli.
A NATO Spokesperson later said that during the air strike on a missile site, "a potential weapon system failure occurred and this caused the weapon not to hit the intended target, and reportedly resulted in a number of civilian casualties."
On 20 June, NATO strikes in Surman against what appeared to be civilian homes in a compound belonging to one of Colonel al-Gaddafi’s associates, Khweildy al-Hamedi, reportedly killed several civilians, including two children and their mother.
NATO said that the facility was a legitimate military target and assured that precautions were taken before conducting the "strike which minimized any potential risk of causing unnecessary casualties".
Since March 2011, Amnesty International has repeatedly requested access to territories under the control of Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi in order to investigate allegations of human rights violations and violations to international humanitarian law. These included the sites of NATO bombings where civilian casualties have been reported. The organization received no response.
On 17 March, as fighting intensified in eastern Libya as well as in Misratah, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya and the implementation of all necessary measures, short of foreign occupation, to protect civilians.
The international alliance launched its first military attacks against al-Gaddafi forces on 19 March. NATO took over the military operation in late March.
In their attempt to regain territory under opposition control, al-Gaddafi forces launched indiscriminate attacks and attacks targeting civilians.
Such attacks were particularly widespread in Misratah. Residents faced relentless and indiscriminate rocket attacks from March to mid-May and sporadic attacks in the summer.
On 31 July, three unarmed civilians were killed and another injured when rockets landed in the residential neighbourhood of Magasaba.