(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Libyan media reported on Saturday that General Khalifa Haftar announced an initiative to resolve the Ganfouda civilian crisis.
For months, Benghazi-based media and Haftar’s senior personnel claimed that all civilian families had already left Ganfouda. However, after images and videos were released of the bodies of women and children who were killed by air strikes, claims were made that those who remained in Ganfouda were ISIS supporters or fighters, in an attempt to validate the killings.
Last week, Mr. Martin Kobler, UN’s Special Representative to Libya, broke the UN Special Mission in Libya’s (UNSMIL) silence on this humanitarian crisis at the 33rd UN Human Rights Council when he confirmed that over 100 families remained trapped in Ganfouda. Also, a recent report by Amnesty International and a statement by Human Rights Watch warned against the continued killing of civilians in Ganfouda. HRW’s senior researcher, Hanan Salah, called on the International Criminal Court to consider the killings in Ganfouda war crimes.
In the last three months, various sources have approximated the number of families remaining in Ganfouda to be between 126 and 133. But the number of families remaining has decreased after several families were killed by indiscriminate air strikes on homes, schools, mosques and clinics by Khalifa Haftar’s forces.
Contrary to Haftar’s previous claims that all civilians had left Ganfouda, his announcement on Saturday confirms that there are in fact civilians in Ganfouda. Haftar made his announcement after increased international awareness and pressure surrounding the Ganfouda crisis. His initiative offers a three phased approach. The first phase is the evacuation of civilians via land and sea. Those who choose to leave by sea were told to leave through the “Almarisah” harbor where his troops are stationed. The evacuation will be monitored by the Red Crescent, the municipal council, international organizations and the media.
The second phase would include the evacuation of prisoners and detainees followed by a third phase in which remaining fighters can choose to surrender.
However, Haftar’s initiative did not confirm a ceasefire to allow international organizations, the Red Crescent, and the media to enter Ganfouda to safely monitor the situation. Human rights organizations are concerned that Haftar’s forces will be present at the evacuation exit point as the evacuation should strictly be managed by the Red Crescent and parties not involved in the armed conflict.
Most importantly, the evacuation has been limited to civilians defined as women, children, and the elderly. This limitation is a continuation of Haftar’s forces claiming that all families in Ganfouda are parties to the war, and as such all males are “fighters” and must be surrendered. Sources close to the Libyan Gazette have reported that UNSMIL-facilitated negotiations took place in September but fell through after Haftar’s forces demanded that all males 14 years and older be surrendered. This condition was previously stated in a press conference held on Government TV by Haftar’s Tribal Relations Advisor who announced that all males 14 and older would be executed.
A statement released by UNSMIL and Kobler yesterday said, “women and children who wish to leave must be allowed to do so as a first step towards the evacuation of all civilians and prisoners.”
Human Rights Groups have denounced Haftar and UNSMIL’s categorization that all males in Ganfouda are fighters. Civilian families remain in Ganfouda and it is UNSMIL’s responsibility to find a way to evacuate families, including males.