(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Amnesty International released a news report on Friday saying hundreds of civilians are unable to leave their homes in Ganfouda, a neighbourhood in south-west Benghazi, as clashes intensify following a military blockade that has lasted for months.
Amnesty spoke with close to 130 Libyan families and hundreds of expat residents who are trapped in Ganfouda unable to flee the violence.
The Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, have cut off access to all roads into Ganfouda and have prevented food, water and fuel from making it into Ganfouda.
“Time is running out for civilians in Ganfouda, who are being left to die trapped by the fighting. While bombs and shells continue to rain down on them, civilians are struggling to survive on rotten food and dirty water. And the sick and wounded must make do with dwindling supplies of expired medicines,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“As the airstrikes intensify and the fighting moves ever closer, many people are too afraid to leave their homes,” said Mughrabi. “Those who wish to leave must be protected from any attacks based on where they are from or their perceived political affiliation.”
In 2014, Haftar launched a military campaign he called “Operation Dignity” to fight armed groups and brigades in Benghazi who opposed him. The militants unified and called themselves the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR).
Amnesty International has accused both Haftar’s forces and the SCBR of engaging in “serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law (and) in some cases war crimes” were committed.
“A tribal leader affiliated with Operation Dignity stated at the end of August that any person over the age of 14 should not be allowed to leave Ganfouda alive,” reported Amnesty.
Mohamed, one of the trapped residents, told Amnesty International that the attacks were had increased this week. He also warned of the difficult and desperate conditions of children.
“Children look like skin and bones because of the lack of food and poor nutrition… If they could just drop us some food for the children or get them out of here, even if that meant leaving the rest of us, that would be fine,” said Mohamed.
Mohamed himself was suffering from health issues but was unable to receive medical treatment as Ganfouda had run out of the medicine he needs.
The airstrikes have fallen on homes, leaving many families homeless. Mohamed has opened his home to about 45 people, 23 of them are children, who are having to accept living in tight conditions as the violence has not left them with many options.
“There are no fighters amongst us: we’re just normal civilians,” he said.
“It’s like we’re in prison” Mohamed said as he described the conditions they had to endure with no electricity in the last two years.
“Planes are patrolling the skies and people are scared to even walk outside because any area where they see movement, they strike. Even a mosque was hit by shelling a few months ago,” said another resident.
The human rights organization has also reported that close to 130 people have been kidnapped and taken into custody of an armed militia known as Ansar Al-Sharia in 2014. Unverified reports indicate that around 20 of the kidnapped lost their lives after an airstrike hit the area they were being kept in.
The Amnesty director is urging “all parties (to) take feasible precautions to protect the lives of civilians caught up in the fighting in Ganfouda and other parts of Libya in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.”
“Indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks are prohibited by international law and every effort must be made to distinguish between military targets and civilians or civilian homes and buildings,” he added.
Ganfouda’s civilians feel they are being subjected to discriminatory attacks because of “their previous support for SCBR forces,” said Amnesty.
“We are urging all parties to the fighting in Benghazi to respect international humanitarian law and allow unfettered access to humanitarian relief for civilians in need,” said Mughrabi.