Valerie Amos has the most difficult job in the world. The organisation she heads (The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or UNOCHA) may be the “eyes and ears” of the United Nations Security Council, but she is it’s soul and voice.
Thus far, Valerie Amos and her very able team have reached an uneasy agreement with the Libyan government and have in theory, unfettered access to the Libyan interior
to establish a humanitarian presence in Tripoli and to enable the UNOCHA to move around and see exactly what is happening for themselves
We should also shelve the idea of an immanent humanitarian military intervention (either by the EU or NATO ) provided this latest plan can be implemented to the satisfaction of the UNOCHA which can, in theory at least, ask for “military assets” if they are somehow hindered in their work. The official view on this is that they are “not at that point at all”.
UNOCHA has had intermittent access to the port facilities at Misurata for quite some time, and now rightly, asks for land access via the Tripoli thoroughfare. When the time is right, Col. Ghaddafi, will almost certainly try to play the humanitarian card to leverage political support from the African Union which could cast a long shadow on the way resolution 1973 is implemented.
In the meantime, attacks on Misurata and other opposition held areas continue with undiminished ferocity.
On 17 April, an agreement was signed between the UN and the Government of Libya, to facilitate humanitarian access into Libya and establish an international UN presence in Tripoli. Below is a summary of the official version of the crisis in Misurata:
300 people were reported killed and 1,000 injured by 18 April with at least 4,700 third-country nationals (TCNs) and Libyans waiting to leave by 24 April.
Children as young as 9 months have been killed, with at least 21 child deaths (UNICEF).
12 evacuation operations have been organized by the humanitarian community (including the Qatari Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Crescent) transporting over 8,500 people mainly TCNs, and war wounded.
Water and electricity has been cut off for over 50 days.
Author’s note: The number of casualties reported includes official hospital figures only. Many fatalities have simply not been recorded. There are numerous reports of civilians being buried where they fell and within 24 hours (according to Islamic law). These figures do not include government forces (regular or foreign mercenaries).
(International Organization for Migration, update 24 April 2011).
25 April 2011
The Misurata Freedom Group (MFG) report near continuous and “random” shelling of residential areas from suspected government positions around Tummina to the south. A residential area east of the city (Ashwara) was subjected to a three hour artillery barrage early this morning, possibly wounding a number of civilians. A man has been killed and a French journalist is in a critical condition after apparently having been caught up in an attack on the hospital orchestrated by “fifth columnists” working for the Libyan government.
The MFG cite other reports of a possible Scud missile that left a crater 5m deep (reported earlier by Abdul Jalil, leader of the National Council of Libya on Kuwaiti TV) and the possible build up of a large attacking force augmented by mercenaries from Mauritania, Colombia, Chad among others.
The port facilities have been hit by artillery fire, but remain functional.
25 April 2011
A Sky News report strongly suggests that the Libyan government is still arming and training foreign mercenaries at the Army College in Misurata and that it’s “graduates” are among the leading elements of government backed forces attacking the civilian population in that city.
As the news report suggests, the morale of foreign mercenaries appears to be at a very low ebb, with discipline now being enforced at the point of a gun.
Two developments in recent days, signal a new phase in the civil war in Libya and a government fast running out of options.
Firstly, the welcome eviction of the last of the government sniper teams from the city centre of Misurata, which has forced an ominous change of tactics according to a statement made by Khaled Kaim, the deputy foreign minister on Saturday.
“There was an ultimatum to the Libyan army: if they cannot solve the problem in Misurata, then the people from Zliten, Tarhuna, Bani Walid and Tawargha will move in and they will talk to the rebels. If they don’t surrender, then they will engage them and fight.”
While it is unusual for a government to give “an ultimatum” to it’s own army, Kaim’s statement suggests that the government intends to arm and deploy civilians from neighbouring areas, possibly very soon, to regain the initiative and seize the port facilities at Qasr Ahmed. Reports on Saturday confirm that the city was still being shelled from positions outside the city.
The second development is an attempt by the government to muster the support of the Arab League for political reforms that would pave the way for a pro-Ghaddafi political party to return to power through the popular vote. The opposition has flatly rejected these overtures not simply because it feels that the Ghaddafis have no part to play in their future state but also because they fear his political patronage and wealth will unfairly favour loyalists, leaving Saif al-Islam at the reins of a new democratic state.
The International Community and the Arab League need to think hard about taking some more brave steps to prevent further institutionalisation of violence in Libya.
19 April 2011
Various media reports confirm that heavily armed pro-Ghaddafi forces are attempting to violently seize the strategic port of Misurata and to permanently cut off supply lines to the civilian population of Libya’s third largest city. The attack on Misurata’s port facilities is taking place along three main axes:
Along Tripoli street, which provides direct access to the airport from the north and which leads directly to the city centre. Having been the scene of much bitter fighting over the past month, well entrenched government sniper teams are still preventing residents from consolidating their hold on the centre. From here, opposition forces control one of three routes into the port area.
Along the Al-Thaqil road to the east of the airport. This road offers the most direct route to the port which cannot be approached from the south east because of barren open land.
Along the western suburbs where the dense road network and urban landscape provides cover rocket launchers, tanks and mortar teams to attack the civilian population. The western suburbs also offer direct access to a coastal road that leads to the port.
The port is also the scene of refugee camps.
(The Wall Street Journal)
Misurata remains under heavy rocket, shell and sniper fire. Independent media report that pro-Ghaddafi forces are unleashing more than 100 rockets a day on what is Libya’s third largest city, and that this has resulted in scores of casualties which include children and the elderly. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have confirmed the use of Spanish made cluster munitions by pro-Ghaddafi forces in Misurata.
Between 15 and 16 April, HRW experts observed at least three MAT-120 mortars exploding over the city, one in a densely populated area only 300 metres from the main hospital. The use of cluster munitions is banned by over 108 countries as part of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Despite heavy shelling, the UNOCHA reports that humanitarian organizations have been able to deliver aid and evacuate people from the port, to safety.
Meanwhile, the office of Baroness Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is working on a plan to deploy a humanitarian military mission (Eufor Libya) to secure better access to and protection of the civilian populations in line with the mandate of resolution 1973 (2011) .
Politically, the decision as to whether this humanitarian force is deployed will have to come from the UN, specifically the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Thus far, the head of UNOCHA, Valerie Amos has been reluctant to make that decision prior to exhausting all civilian options.
(UNOCHA, The Guardian).
16 April 0700 (GMT+1) in Misurata
According to a streamed telephone conversation from Misurata, forces loyal to Col. Ghaddafi are preparing to capture the strategic facilities at Qasr Ahmed (the transhipment port of Misurata), much like what was attempted last week in Ajdabya.
Freedom Group: this is Misurata with you, the sky is black (at) Qasr Ahmed and Zarouk where people Have fled for (some) protection.
Misurata is calling, calling for help!
I swear the sky is black
Indiscriminate shelling, Misurata is calling you!
Many people are being killed
Where is Everyone? I swear Misurata is calling
The shelling began at 6:30 this morning,
More intense that last night
NATO did not help us, did not protect civilians
Sister, I don’t want to increase your burden!
Children, families, are dying
The Mosques are being destroyed
Do they want this to turn into Ajdabiyah?
Everyone is at Qasr Ahmed and Zarouk
Where is the East and the West?
I wish you could hear what I’m hearing
For God’s sakes, help us
People, people listen, people are dying
Perditta: Please, make sure that you are all in a safe place
Freedom Group: There is no solution, what is the solution, what do you want? Everyone is heading for the coast!
Please take this message to the world!
The children are losing their minds, they are all in hospital
Please, we are Muslims, Ben Walid, Zintan, they are sleeping in their houses, the cowards!
Please help us!
I am losing my mind, we are suffering terribly!
Misurata is calling! Please help Misurata! Where is Sarkozy? Where is Obama? NATO is doing nothing!
Families, people are dying
Nobody is protecting us
There is bloodshed on the streets, death is everywhere.
Why is this happening? Why?!
Please help Misrata!!!!
Antiaircraft guns, RPGs (anti-tank rockets) are being used
Are you waiting for the complete destruction of Misrata?
I swear, my sister, yesterday, families, my whole family, two twin girls, a girl, son, and a mother all killed by these Grad rockets, my father is critically injured in hospital
Please, young men are crying, weeping
How can we defend ourselves?
Misrata is drowning in blood
Where is everyone? Where is the East? I am from Benghazi, I didn’t know it was like this, why is this happening? Young Children, youth still in school, learning, are being killed!
Gaddafi is crazy, he is killing people!!!!
Perditta: We are with you, we are praying with you all
Freedom Group: God willing, God help us, God will be with us
15 April 2011
(New York) – Government forces loyal to the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, have fired cluster munitions into residential areas in the western city of Misrata, posing a grave risk to civilians, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch observed at least three cluster munitions explode over the el-Shawahda neighborhood in Misrata on the night of April 14, 2011. Researchers inspected the remnants of a cluster submunition and interviewed witnesses to two other apparent cluster munition strikes.
Based on the submunition inspected by Human Rights Watch, first discovered by a reporter from The New York Times, the cluster munition is a Spanish-produced MAT-120 120mm mortar projectile, which opens in mid-air and releases 21 submunitions over a wide area. Upon exploding on contact with an object, each submunition disintegrates into high-velocity fragments to attack people and releases a slug of molten metal to penetrate armored vehicles.
A majority of the world’s nations have comprehensively banned the use of cluster munitions through the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which became binding international law in August 2010. It’s appalling that Libya is using this weapon, especially in a residential area. They pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about.Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch.
“Libya needs to halt the use of these weapons immediately, and take all steps to ensure that civilians are protected from the deadly remnants they have left behind,” Goose said. The area where Human Rights Watch witnessed the use of cluster munitions is about 1 kilometer from the front line between rebels and government forces. The submunitions appear to have landed about 300 meters from Misrata hospital. Human Rights Watch could not inspect the impact sites due to security concerns.
Human Rights Watch has not yet been able to determine if civilians in Misrata have been wounded or killed by cluster munitions.
Human Rights Watch interviewed two ambulance drivers who said they had witnessed cluster strikes prior to April 14.
Ibrahim Abuwayfa told Human Rights Watch that he was in the Al-Gzeer district of Misrata around 7 p.m. on April 13, on the coastal road called Tuarga Street, when he saw an explosion in the air and “little flames” coming down. “One of the objects landed a few meters away on a residential wall and it exploded when it hit and then shrapnel flew out,” Abuwayfa said. Abuwayfa said he had heard of similar attacks that night in the Maghdar and Kurzaz areas of the city.
Waleed Srayti said he saw a cluster munition strike on April 14, at 11 a.m. “I was in the streets behind the vegetable market,” he said. “A big battle was going on in Tripoli Street at the vegetable market. I heard a noise and about 9 to 10 things started popping out of the sky over the market. I just saw the pops in the air. I saw white smoke coming down. When it went up, I didn’t see anything. It was daylight. I didn’t hear anything when it went up, but I heard the explosion at the top of the arc.”
Cluster munitions can be fired by mortars and artillery or dropped by aircraft. They explode in the air sending dozens, even hundreds, of submunitions or “bomblets” over an area the size of a football field. These submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines.
Based on the markings on the submunition found in Misrata, Libya used MAT-120 cluster munitions. These contain 21 dual-purpose submunitions equipped with a self-destruct feature. The submunition is considered dual-purpose because it has both anti-personnel and anti-material effects.
Upon exploding on impact with an object, the steel body of the MAT-120 submunition disintegrates into numerous high-velocity fragments to attack personnel and releases a metal slug, which is formed from an inverted copper cone inside the submunition, intended to penetrate the walls of an armored vehicle.
The MAT-120 cluster munitions used in Misrata were produced by Instalaza SA in Spain. The markings on the submunition remnant inspected by Human Rights Watch indicate it was produced in 2007.
At the end of 2008, Spain destroyed its stockpile of 1,852 MAT-120 mortar projectiles, containing a total of 38,892 submunitions. Spain signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions on December 3, 2008 and ratified on June 17, 2009.
Libya has not signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The current status and composition of Libya’s stockpile are unknown. Libya used aerial cluster bombs, likely RBK bombs of Soviet/Russian origin, in Chad during the 1980s conflict.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions, requires states to destroy stockpiles, clear contaminated land, and assist victims and affected communities. Of the 108 countries that have signed the convention since it opened for signature in December 2008, 56 countries have already ratified.
Libya’s use of the weapon in Misrata is the second known instance of cluster munitions use since the Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force on August 1, 2010. Earlier this month, on April 6, 2011, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) concluded that Thailand used cluster munitions on Cambodian territory during a border conflict in February 2011.
(Human Rights Watch)