Attack on migrant detention centre: LFJL calls for an independent investigation into possible war crimes

July 3, 2019

An aerial attack on a migrant and refugee detention centre in Tajoura, on the outskirts of Tripoli, late on Tuesday 2 July 2019 has left 46 dead and at least 130 wounded. The centre, which is under the control of the Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), is reported to have been targeted by General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (the Libyan National Army or LNA). The LNA claim that the target was in fact a weapons depot nearby, while the Government of National Accord (GNA) states that the centre was directly targeted by the LNA. International Humanitarian Law prohibits the targeting of civilians and civilian objects. The attack on a detention centre, where hundreds of men, women and children are held, is a war crime.

"Everyone has a right to life including asylum seekers, refugees and migrants; all those held in detention centres should be immediately released as a first step to ensure their safety removal from the frontlines of the conflict", said Marwa Mohamed, Head of Advocacy and Outreach at Lawyers for Justice in Libya. This tragic incident and that of last week in Gheryan, where reports of possible extrajudicial killing in a hospital of wounded LNA fighters by fighters affiliated to the GNA, demonstrate the need to establish immediately an independent investigative body in Libya. "The international community must act immediately to establish a specialised mechanism that can investigate these and other possible war crimes with the aim of identifying the perpetrators", added Mohamed.

This is not the first time that this area has been targeted since the launch of the offensive on Tripoli in April this year. This is a high-density residential area. In previous incidents since April, homes have been destroyed, and rockets have landed in areas near the detention centre. Despite this, the detention centre continued to hold around 600 individuals. The LNA claim that the target was a weapons depot nearby and that the GNA were using the centre as human shields.

Since the conflict erupted in Tripoli on 4 April 2019, when Haftar and his LNA launched an offensive to take over the capital, weapons have been pouring into the country from allied forces supporting the vying factions on the ground. In direct breach of an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council, high grade military weapons have made their way to the hands of militias fighting for both sides of the conflict. Neither the LNA nor the GNA can claim to have a clear institutionalised military with a clear command and control structure, nor well trained personnel to handle such weaponry. Since the start of the conflict 783 deaths have been reported, including 41 civilians, and 4,407 wounded, of which 137 are civilians. 

"The fact that the breach of the arms embargo is helping fuel this conflict places those countries transferring these weapons to untrained personnel complicit in the crimes committed and should also be held accountable", said Mohamed. "Instead of transferring weapons and rolling out the red carpet, international actors should hold parties to the conflict accountable and work towards putting an end to the destructive conflict".

It is a fact that nearly all those held in DCIM detention centres are disembarked in Libya after being intercepted at sea by the LCG and transferred to DCIM detention centres. Despite the war, the European Union (EU) policy remains anchored on supporting the Libyan Coast Guard to ensure that refugees and migrants trying to flee the conflict are brought back to Libya with nowhere to escape.  

This policy is linked to the events in Tajoura and the EU must also bear responsibility for these deaths. "The EU cannot escape the irresponsibility and continue business as usual, while maintaining their policy on blocking refugees and migrants from reaching safety", said Mohamed. "The EU must accept their share in the responsibility and ensure that refugees and migrants in Libya are immediately released and given safe passage to Europe".

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