Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) strongly condemns the attack in Mitiga airport which killed at least 20 people, including civilians, on 15 January 2018. LFJL calls on Libya and the international community to take steps to prevent the further loss of life and ensure accountability for these crimes.
On 15 January 2018, fierce fighting broke out between two rival militias at Mitiga airport, located on the outskirts of Tripoli. The Ministry of Health reported that at least 20 people, including civilians, were killed and 63 people were wounded in the fighting. Several properties were also damaged. As a result of the fighting, flights have been suspended and schools in the surrounding area were closed.
Mitiga airport was formerly a military air base in eastern Tripoli. It has operated as a civilian airport since 2014, when Tripoli International Airport was closed following fighting between rival armed non-state actors. Mitiga airport also operates as a detention facility, holding 2,500 people, under the control of the Special Deterrent Force known as “Rada”. The fighting was reportedly the result of an armed group, led by Bashir al-Baqara, trying to forcibly release a number of individuals held by Rada.
Both armed groups are affiliated and aligned to the Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA has, however, denounced the attack and stated it “aimed at freeing terrorists from Daesh (Islamic State) and al Qaeda and other organisations.”
The targeting of civilians or civilian objects, including civilian airports, is in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. LFJL’s Advocacy Programme Coordinator, Aml El-Houderi, remarked, “Respecting the distinction between civilian objects and military targets is one of the fundamental principles of international law. Any action that directly or indiscriminately attacks civilians should be the object of thorough criminal investigations and those responsible brought to account.”
LFJL calls on the GNA to carry out investigations of these crimes and, if necessary, request the assistance of international actors to support such efforts. Individuals responsible for such severe breaches of human rights and international humanitarian law must be held accountable in order to ensure the rights of victims and to deter further violent outbreaks.
LFJL calls on the international community to do more to demonstrate its intolerance of the impunity that remains prevalent in Libya and continues to undermine the rule of law. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is also encouraged to review the incident and consider its relevance to her mandate. LFJL renews its call on Member States of the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt an independent monitoring mechanism to further scrutinise and investigate the ongoing situation in Libya.
LFJL recalls that both Libya and the international community have a responsibility to hold actors accountable for violations of international law. LFJL therefore urges all parties involved in the renegotiation of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) and other future transitional plans, to ensure the full integration of human rights accountability measures into such arrangements. LFJL has repeatedly called for the inclusion of such measures within political agreements, noting the importance of ending impunity to ensuring lasting peace in Libya.