Armed supporters of the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) are closing in on the city of Sirte, Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown and political heartland. On Thursday (9/1), the TNC extended the deadline for pro-Qaddafi forces to surrender by another week. As fighting continues across Libya, combatants on both sides must refrain from targeting civilians, as well as detained opposition fighters in accordance with customary norms and international humanitarian law.
It is likely that the fight for Sirte and other Qaddafi strongholds will be fierce. Residents of these areas are at particular risk of being caught in the crossfire, particularly as pro-Qaddafi forces may be using civilians as human shields. Both sides should take all efforts to prevent civilian casualties regardless of location.
Yesterday, The Atlantic Monthly published a story highlighting the role that Saharan nomads have played in supporting Qaddafi’s military during recent fighting. In “A Qaddafi Mercenary Tells His Story,” it was reported that mercenaries from Mali and Niger may have fought for Qaddafi against TNC forces. Stories such as this, on the heels of previous mistreatment of sub-Saharan African residents of Libya, raise the potential for retaliatory violence against migrants unaffiliated with Qaddafi’s security services.
In light of these risks, the international community should continue to press the TNC to ensure that it continues to order its forces to obey international humanitarian law regarding the treatment of civilians in armed conflict.