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Human Rights Watch: NATO Ignoring Civilian Deaths in Libya

A leading human rights group has accused NATO of ignoring civilian deaths during its 2011 war against the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya.

While admitting that the alliance took great care to minimize civilian deaths, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday that NATO has failed to acknowledge the scores of innocent civilians it killed or “provide prompt and suitable compensation” to the families of victims or to those who were injured or lost property during the campaign.

According to HRW, which visited eight sites in Libya to compile its report, NATO air strikes killed 72 innocent civilians, including 20 women and 24 children.

“We have been to all eight sites that we refer to in our report, which NATO has not done,” David Mepham, UK HRW director, told al-Jazeera.

“To date, NATO has failed to acknowledge these casualties or to examine how and why they occurred,” the report said.

HRW’s assessment counts 17 more civilians than the 55 Amnesty International, another prominent global human rights group, said were killed by NATO.

Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokeswoman, told al-Jazeera that the US-led alliance “conducted the campaign for Libya with unprecedented care and precision and to a standard exceeding that required by international humanitarian law.”

“NATO did everything possible to minimise risks to civilians, but in a complex military campaign, that risk can never be zero,” she added.

“We deeply regret any instance of civilian casualties for which NATO may have been responsible.”

Lungescu claimed that NATO “looked into each credible allegation” of civilian casualties and “confirmed that the specific targets struck by NATO were legitimate military targets.”

All told, NATO warplanes flew some 26,000 sorties and struck nearly 6,000 targets during the 226-day campaign which ultimately achieved the alliance’s goal of toppling the long-ruling regime of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi was captured, tortured and executed by NATO-backed Libyan rebels last October.

HRW did concede that NATO took great care to avoid civilian deaths.

“But information and investigations are needed to explain why 72 civilians died,” said Fred Abrahams, the report’s main author, told al-Jazeera.

“Attacks are allowed only on military targets, and serious questions remain in some incidents about what exactly NATO forces were striking.”

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