The Libya Platform, a coalition of 16 organizations, condemns the armed assault on the Mitiga Airport in the Libyan capital Tripoli and the shelling of adjacent residential areas on Monday, January 15, 2018. The assaults, affirmed by the Platform as amounting to war crimes, were perpetuated amid the outbreak of armed clashes following the Expansive Shield militia’s attack on the airport. The militia is under the leadership of Bashir Khalfallah (known as ‘al Bogra’) while the airport is under the control of the Special Deterrence Force (Rada) led by Abdel Raouf Kara, tasked by the Presidential Council with securing the facility.
The attack on the Mitiga Airport is not the first of its kind. The airport was closed on July 5, 2017 following clashes targeting the surrounding areas, resulting in the death of a family who was on the beach across from the airport. At least another seven civilians were killed in a resort across from the airport, among them a three-month-old infant and a three-year-old child, as well as their mother and her sisters; the mother was from the al-Shaybi family and married into the Madani family.
The Mitiga Airport is a military base used as a civil airport since 2014, following the destruction of Tripoli International Airport in July 2014 during bloody clashes between militias. The Mitiga base also contains a prison holding at least 2,000 detainees who are subjected to various types of torture, according to confirmed statements from former prisoners. Those prisoners also stated that detainees at the prison were denied their basic rights, such as the right to see a lawyer or doctor or be brought before the Public Prosecution prior to trial.
The Platform denounces the use of heavy and light weaponry on both sides of the armed engagement, which resulted in the deaths of at least 21 people and the injury of 60, according to the Ministry of Health. The skirmish also resulted in material damage to the airport building and planes owned by Afriqiyah Airlines, Libyan Wings, and Buraq Air.
In light of this deadly violence, the Platform:
- Affirms that these assaults amount to war crimes under Article 8, paragraph 2, of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC).
- Cautions militias that indiscriminate attacks on vital civilian and residential targets that are not justified by military necessity and disregard prohibitions protecting civilians during armed hostilities constitute a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions under International Humanitarian Law.
- Demands that the Libyan Public Prosecutor open an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the lethal clash and bring justice, in a fair trial, to those culpable for killing, systematic torture, the terrorizing of civilians, and the destruction of vital civilian sites. We note that if the Libyan justice system fails to undertake these obligations, jurisdiction will be transferred to the General Prosecutor of the ICC, who may investigate and issue arrest warrants for the perpetrators of these grave violations, pursuant to the mandate given to the ICC by the UN Security Council with Resolution 1970 of February 15, 2011.
The UN special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame warned the UN Security Council on January 17, 2018 of further bloodshed: “Though 17 December is behind us, the specter of violence remains present. Military forces are flexing their muscles in many parts of the country.” He further deplored the civilian casualties resulting from this violence: “Civilians, men, women and children, continue to be killed or injured in crossfire. Armed groups fight recklessly in residential areas, with no thought to the safety of civilians.”
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