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Rights group: NATO failed to investigate airstrike casualties in Libya

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 19, 2012 -- Updated 1908 GMT (0308 HKT)
Smoke billows from Tajura, a suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in June after NATO warplanes launched air raids.
Smoke billows from Tajura, a suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in June after NATO warplanes launched air raids.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: NATO "carried out our operations with utmost care," the alliance says
  • An Amnesty International report says NATO airstrikes killed scores of civilians
  • The report says NATO and Libya's new government failed to investigate the deaths
  • NATO said it did everything possible to minimize risk, according to the report

(CNN) -- A leading human rights organization accused NATO on Monday of failing to investigate civilian deaths caused by its airstrikes in Libya that aided in the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi.

In a 20-page report titled "Libya: The Forgotten Victims of NATO Strikes," Amnesty International laid out allegations that NATO and the new Libyan government failed not only to document the deaths but also has not paid reparations to the victims and their families.

The report said that "scores of Libyan civilians who did not directly participate in hostilities were killed and many more injured as a result of NATO strikes," adding that the 28-member nation alliance has yet to address the incidents in the months since it ended the air campaign.

In a statement Monday, NATO defended its campaign, saying the alliance "carried out our operations with utmost care and precision."

"NATO has looked into each credible allegation of harm to civilians which has been brought to our attention and will continue to do so," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. "This involves an assessment of all NATO records, from target selection to any other data gathered following the strike. This review process has confirmed that the specific targets struck by NATO were legitimate military targets, selected in a manner consistent with the U.N. mandate."

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A letter sent by NATO this month to Amnesty International in response to the report said the alliance "deeply regrets any harm that may have been caused by those airstrikes."

"While NATO did everything possible to minimize the risk to civilians, in a complex military operation that risk cannot be reduced to zero," the NATO letter said, according to the report.

The report also faulted the new Libyan government for failing to conduct impartial and thorough investigations, and it recommended it "ensure that victims of violations of international human law, and their families, receive full reparations."

The Libyan uprising began days after a popular revolution in Egypt forced President Hosni Mubarak from office in February 2011. Gadhafi forces responded brutally to the uprising in Libya, drawing worldwide condemnation for the killing of civilians.

NATO began bombing military targets in Libya in March 2011 following the approval of a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force by whatever means necessary -- with the exception of a ground invasion -- to protect civilians after Gadhafi's forces.

NATO ended its air campaign in October following the death of Gadhafi, who was killed in his hometown of Sirte after more than two months on the run.

The report documents that more than 100 civilians, including dozens of children, were killed in NATO airstrikes in Tripoli and elsewhere. It also found that the airstrikes hit private residences, "possibly due to wrong intelligence, erroneous GPS coordinates or weapons system malfunction."

The report recommends NATO take immediate steps to investigate the casualties and pay reparations for damages.

Amnesty International's criticisms of NATO and Libya's government parallel concerns raised by Russia, which approved the Security Council resolution that authorized enforcement of a no-fly zone to protect civilians and then criticized it when it led to widespread bombing of Libyan military forces.

Russia and China, which both approved the Libyan resolution, have vetoed a similar one aimed at protecting Syrian civilians in an uprising aimed at ousting President Bashar al-Assad.

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