UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Thursday said the use of violent force by the government of Libya in densely populated cities could amount to international war crimes [press release]. The use of cluster bombs and heavy artillery by armed forces under leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in the city of Misrata has resulted in "substantial" civilian casualties, including women and children. Pillay expressed concern over reported sniper attacks targeting civilians, mortar attacks around medical facilities and an inability to deliver medical aid to reach the victims of the conflict. Pillay warned that the government's actions will be under intense scrutiny by the International Criminal Court investigation [JURIST report] and urged the government to cease the attack on Misrata:
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 also expressed hope that the presence of human rights investigators and a constant media presence will help to dispel the situation in Libya.
Earlier this month, the UN announced that investigators would enter Libya to begin looking into alleged human rights abuses [JURIST report] by both rebels and the armed forces of Gaddafi. The inquiry into the conditions in Libya had been approved by a unanimous vote [JURIST report] of members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] on February 25. Also in February, the UN Security Council voted unanimously [press release] to impose sanctions [JURIST report] on Gaddafi, marking the first unanimous referral to the ICC in UN history. Resolution 1970 also received support from Libya's delegation itself, which renounced Gaddafi [Reuters report]. The UN General Assembly voted to suspend Libya [JURIST report] from the Human Rights Council in response to the violent suppression of peaceful protesters by forces loyal to Gaddafi. According to a statement issued by the court, the ICC will not grant immunity [JURIST report] to any person perpetrating crimes against humanity in Libya.