C.J. Chivers on Libyan rebels’ violations of laws of war

C.J. Chivers on Libyan rebels’ violations of laws of war

Last week, the NYT’s military-affairs writer C.J. Chivers was one of the first to do detailed reporting of the use by Libyan government forces of cluster bombs in the heavily populated port city of Misrata. Today, the NYT carriesanother piece of well researched reporting by him– this time on laws of war violations (and other very questionable actions) by the rebel forces in Libya.

Weapons in rebel hands, Chivers writes,

      include… heavier weapons — Type 63 and Grad rockets — that

rebels have fired indiscriminately

      , endangering civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Read the following parts of his piece carefully:

    Among the Forces of Free Libya [i.e., the rebels], an absence of discipline and experience, a fleeting appreciation for both the tactical and technical aspects of weapons employment and a disregard for, or perhaps ignorance of, international conventions are all on display.

Put simply, the rebels have a limited sense of how to use modern weapons in ways that maximize their effectiveness while minimizing their risks to everyone else.

They have exhibited what seems to be a tolerance for at least a small number of child soldiers. Such was the case of Mohamed Abdulgader, a 13-year-old boy seen at a forward checkpoint earlier this month with an assault rifle in his grip.

Mohamed claimed not be a front-line fighter. But he was in area that within an hour came under fire, and made clear his readiness to fight. “If the Qaddafi men try to do anything to me, I will hurt them,” he said. None of the fighters present, or their commander, appeared concerned.

Similarly, the rebels have little evident command-and-control and no clear or consistent rules of engagement — factors that have perhaps contributed to instances of abusive or outright brutal conduct.

There have been credible accounts of rebels beating and robbing African men on the mere suspicion of their being mercenaries, and on April 9 two journalists observed rebels capture and immediately kill a suspected Qaddafi informant.

Countries that provide arms to such lawless forces could later be accused of encouraging or enabling these kinds of crimes. Similarly, many rebels have assembled powerful but inaccurate weapons systems that they have been firing near Ajdabiya and Brega. These include 107-millimeter rockets on pickup trucks, as well as makeshift mounts for 122-millimeter Grad rockets and 57-millimeter air-to-ground rocket launchers removed from former Qaddafi attack helicopters.

Journalists have seen these high-explosive munitions fired repeatedly, and often haphazardly. The rebels firing them typically have no evident communication with forward observers who might watch where their ordnance lands, and have shown no ability to adjust their aim.

In tactical terms, this is indiscriminate fire — the very behavior rebels and civilians have decried in the Qaddafi forces, albeit on a smaller scale.
Well, I don’t believe Chivers or anyone else is in a position right now to make a judgment on whether the rebels in Libya have been using indiscriminate fire more or less than the (presumably, better trained) government forces. Hard, too, to know exactly how to measure this…

Regardless of that quibble, here is a well substantiated account of widespread violations of the laws of war being committed by the rebel forces in Libya. (And recall, too, how admiring many western journos back at the beginning of the Libyan insurrection seemed to be, of the very young age of some of the rebels taking up arms… )

So now, shall we see Human Rights Watch or any other international organizations writing reports about these violations that Chivers has so carefully described and documented?

HRW has thus far issued no fewer than three reports (123) about alleged laws of war violations by Libyan government forces in and around Misrata.

The second of those reports was based largely on Chivers’s earlier reporting. If his reporting on that occasion provided an adequate basis for HRW to rush out a follow-up report under their own imprimatur, surely they should do the same thing now?

So now, in response to his latest reporting, can we expect HRW to rush out another statement based on it? I’m not holding my breath.

… In general, HRW’s reporting on this deeply tragic, NATO-escalated war in Libya– maybe we should call it “Samantha’s War”?— has had many of the moral and political qualities of those warmongers of earlier eras who would rush around waving the bloody shirts of those wounded or killed in order to whip up war fever.

War is always hell. Anyone who has ever spent serious amounts of time living in a war zone, as I have, knows that very well. (And no, just “visiting” a war zone in pursuit of a career in journalism or human-rights advocacy is not the same experience, though I salute the courage of all who do that, including Samantha Power, back in the 1990s in Bosnia.)

The suffering that Libya’s people are experiencing today was exacerbated considerably by the France-Britain-U.S. decision to join in (and thereby considerable escalate) the fighting there, back on March 19. There was an alternative at that point. If only Washington, London, and Paris had devoted even one-tenth as much cash and attention to active pursuit of a negotiated resolution of all the matters at issue between Qadhdhafi and his opponents as what they have poured into this very hard-to-end war, then the situation of all the country’s civilians would be considerably better than it is today. And the prospects for their coming days and months would be considerably rosier than the endless strife, hurt, train of deaths, lingering resentments, uprooted families, and broken infrastructure that now seem almost certain to lie ahead of them.

It is not too late to turn away from this war, and to turn back to a path of energetically pursued negotiation and diplomacy. But the western powers– along with their handy maidservant, Qatar– seem determined to continue escalating.

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This entry was posted in Background & Analysis, Human Rights, Imperialism, Libya, Military. Bookmark the permalink.

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