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Civilian Casualties in Libya’s Civil War

Since the onset of Libya’s civil war in 2011, civilians have disproportionately borne the brunt of violence committed by bellicose parties. Libya has been fractured since the 2011 Arab Spring movement that deposed longtime authoritarian leader Muammar Qaddafi. Disputed elections over the future governance of Libya further splintered the country, culminating in a renegade general and illegitimate parliamentary body establishing a secondary government in eastern Libya bent on overthrowing the internationally-recognized and United Nations-supported government. During the fighting, renegade general Khalifa Haftar’s forces have committed grave crimes against civilians with the support of Russian mercenaries from the notorious paramilitary organization, the Wagner Group. Particularly during Haftar’s ill-fated offensive on the Libyan capital of Tripoli, his forces were accused of using scorched-earth tactics and destroying civilian establishments. Furthermore, when it became clear Haftar’s offensive had failed, his troops deployed land mines randomly to cover their retreat which has led to dozens of civilian deaths.

In the last year, civilian deaths in Libya rose by 131%, making it the deadliest year for non-combatants since the beginning of Libya’s civil war. The entrance of foreign actors into the Libyan conflict has also exacerbated the danger for Libyan civilians, particularly the actions of Khalifa Haftar’s Egyptian and Russian allies. Russia has attempted to consolidate Haftar’s position by conducting airstrikes on his behalf, which have disproportionately resulted in civilian casualties. 91% of all deaths from airstrikes in populated areas have been civilians, and airstrikes have been the principle cause of civilian deaths, with 72% of total non-combatant deaths being the result of indiscriminate airstrikes. Amnesty International has authored multiple reports accusing Khalifa Haftar’s forces and allies of war crimes in relation to the indiscriminate killing of Libyan civilians. The United Nations and European Union have both attempted to enforce an arms embargo on Libya in an effort to reduce the violence, but it has largely been unsuccessful to date.

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