UN: Libyan gov't attacks on Misrata may be war crimes

Human rights chief condemns attacks, calls for halt to siege; says deliberate targeting of civilians violate int'l rights law.

libya tank celebration 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
libya tank celebration 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Libyan government's reported use of cluster munitions and heavy weapons in Misrata has caused substantial civilian casualties and may amount to crimes under international law, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for a halt to the siege of Misrata and condemned the attacks, including a cluster bomb said to have exploded last week several hundred meters from the hospital in the west Libyan city.
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"Under international law, the deliberate targeting of medical facilities is a war crime and the deliberate targeting or reckless endangerment of civilians may also amount to serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law," Pillay said in a statement.
The rebels accuse forces supporting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi of using cluster bombs. The US-based Human Rights Watch said last week government forces had fired the weapons into residential areas of Misrata and it had found remnants.
The Libyan government, which denies shelling civilians, has also denied this allegation.
At least two medical clinics in Misrata are reported to have been hit by mortar rounds or sniper fire, according to Pillay.
"Using imprecise weaponry such as cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas will inevitably lead to civilian casualties," Pillay said, adding that women and children were among the dead.
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Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, said pro-government forces besieging Misrata, including commanders, could be held criminally liable for their orders and acts. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was already investigating possible crimes.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said Libyan authorities decided they were ready to kill unarmed protesters opposed to Gaddafi's 41-year rule even before unrest spread from Tunisia and Egypt. He has raised concern about abductions, torture and killings.
Pillay voiced concern about mistreatment of journalists by the Libyan authorities and said at least two journalists had been killed and 16 were missing, including 10 foreigners.
Pillay's comments come after the Libyan foreign minister told the British-daily the Guardian on Wednesday that Libya could potentially hold free United Nations-supervised elections within six months after the end of the civil conflict.
The Libyan regime ready to consider and interim government even before elections would be held, Abdul Ati al-Obeidi told the Guardian, despite Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's claim that the current regime is gaining the upper hand in the conflict.