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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press statement on attacks on civilian areas in Tripoli, Libya

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) has been following, particularly through its Focal Person on Human Rights in Conflict Situations in Africa, the Chairperson of the Commission and its Country Rapporteur on Libya, Honorouble Commissioner Hatem Essaiem with deep alarm the worsening security and human rights situation in Libya, particularly reports of an intensification of indiscriminate attacks in the last month on civilian areas of the Libyan capital Tripoli, during which several civilians were injured or killed and homes and other infrastructure damaged.

The Commission condemns these attacks which have since the beginning of May claimed the lives of 15 civilians and left more than 50 injured. This follows on an attack on a hospital on 17 April which damaged the intensive care unit and necessitated the evacuation of staff and patients. Before this, as of March 2020, 27 health facilities had been damaged, including 14 that had to be closed. The Commission concurs with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) that “these attacks display a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law and human rights law, and may amount to war crimes”.

The Commission is further concerned that in the more than a year since the Libyan National Army launched its offensive to seize Tripoli, the humanitarian situation in the country has continued to deteriorate, with an estimated 893, 000 people currently in need of humanitarian assistance.  The Commission is further concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic which is affecting the whole world, will disproportionately impact ordinary Libyans unless a humanitarian truce is called immediately.

The Commission strongly deplores the external meddling and proxy war in Libya that have continued to add fuel to Libya’s already intensifying fire of armed conflict in complete breach of the right of the people of Libya to self-determination and blatant disregard of the arms embargo sanctioned by the UN Security Council. In this context, it is with deep sadness that the Commission received reports of the killing of 8 civilians near Tripoli by a drone strike on 29 April and condemns in strongest terms such serious breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

The Commission reaffirms the right of all persons to respect for their life and integrity of their person (Article 4), and the prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 5) under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). The Commission further affirms the non-derogability of these rights and thus that no one may be arbitrarily deprived of these rights, including in conflict situations. The Commission further stresses that other human rights, including the right to the best attainable state of health and the right to property, are not suspended under conflict situations. 

In this regard, the Commission:

  1. Urges all parties to the conflict to cease the conflict in the interest of the humanitarian appeal from the AU and the UN, in order to allow medical personnel to adequately prepare for and respond to COVID-19 and for aid providers to address urgent humanitarian needs;
  2. Reminds all parties to the conflict of the prohibition against directly targeting civilians as well as their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality, precaution and last resort in the use of force in order to prevent civilian casualties whose observance is a pre-requisite to avoid responsibility for war crimes;
  3. Calls on external actors to unconditionally desist from their acts of interference that prolongs the conflict in support of a ceasefire and negotiated peace process;
  4. Calls for investigation into the various incidents of attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure including the 29 April drone strike that killed 8 civilians;
  5. Calls on the AU and in particular the High Committee on Libya to intensify efforts, together with other national and international level actors, in working towards a final resolution of the conflict and sustainable peace in Libya and working together with the UN Security Council to put in place effective measures for enforcing the arms embargo on Libya.


Honourable Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso

Focal Point for Conflict and Human Rights and Chairperson of the Commission


Honourable Commissioner Hatem ESSAIEM

Commissioner Rapporteur for the Human Rights Situation in Libya

Banjul, 20 May 2020