Parties involved in the Libyan conflict, and foreign governments supporting them, have been urged to investigate deadly airstrikes last July which killed at least 53 migrants and refugees at a detention center in the northwest of the country.
The appeal was made by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN human rights office in Geneva, which on Monday published a joint report calling for accountability for the attack targeting the Daman building complex, which houses the detention center.
“As I have said previously, the Tajoura attack, depending on the precise circumstances, may amount to a war crime,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Libyans, migrants, and refugees are trapped amid violence and atrocities that are in turn fuelled by impunity. Those guilty of crimes under international law must be held to account.”
The Daman complex is in Tajoura, a town in the Tripoli district in north-western Libya, and comprises various facilities belonging to the Government of National Accord (GNA).
The UN-backed administration is battling the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), which is aligned with a rival government in Benghazi, located in the east.
Fighting between the two sides intensified in April 2019, after the LNA laid siege to southern Tripoli.
The attack on the Daman complex occurred on 2 July 2019 when an “air-delivered bomb” struck a vehicle repair workshop there operated by the Daman Brigade, an armed group allied with the GNA, according to the report.
Minutes later, a second airstrike hit the Tajoura Detention Centre, a large hangar which at the time held some 616 migrants and refugees.
One of the sections, which housed 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 start of the new round of hostilities in April.
The report found that while it appeared that the airstrikes were conducted by aircraft belonging to a foreign State, “it remains unclear whether these air assets were under the command of the LNA or were operated under the command of that foreign State in support of the LNA.”
Regardless, international humanitarian law still applied. The report recalled that parties to the conflict knew the precise location and coordinates of the detention center, which had suffered a previous hit just months before.
The international community met in the German capital a fortnight ago in efforts 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 other injured in 2019 alone, with airstrikes accounting for 60 percent of those casualties.