The idealistic Human Rights Watch
Recently, the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) was both upset and enraged by NATO, because of its response to a HRW report, citing the reasons for the air strikes that allegedly killed 72 civilians in Libya, including women and children, during the NATO war on the Gaddafi regime. These air strikes included sorties targeting the village of Majer, about 160 kilometers east of Tripoli, where NATO bombed two family compounds leading to the deaths of 34 civilians, and more than 30 others wounded. NATO responded in defense saying that the Majer compounds were military bases where Gaddafi’s forces had gathered and resided.
Certainly, the life of every human being has its independent value, but in the circumstances of war the situation on the ground is not idealistic, and it is futile to try to portray it as such. Out of the roughly 26,000 air sorties carried out by NATO in Libya, 9,600 were strike missions, and 5,900 targets were destroyed. It is likely that there were unintentional civilian casualties, but it is difficult to avoid this regardless of the good intentions and the efforts exerted beforehand. The NATO forces were the first line of defense for the Libyans in their battle against the Gaddafi regime, and they were the spearhead of their attack against it.
The information that a fighter pilot receives from the operations room in any battle is effectively their compass to hit specific locations, and in many cases this information is inaccurate. During the sixth Yemeni war between the regime and Huthi insurgents, it was said that the Saleh regime gave the wrong coordinates to the Saudi air force, who subsequently questioned the validity of the information and did not strike the location, which turned out to be the headquarters of Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the northwest region. Had the pilot carried out the strike, this could have sparked another crisis at a critical time between the Yemenis, and between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The target sites may be hideouts where militants have deliberately chosen to conceal themselves in residential areas, and often sides in a battle will use civilians as human shields. We can remember when Hezbollah, in its war with Israel in the summer of 2006, commandeered densely populated areas to launch its rockets, to which Israel responded by opening fire upon family residences. The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, came out the next day to declare that Israel was targeting civilians, and released human rights reports condemning these actions.
War is not a video game where the targets and objective components are revealed on screen in detail in front of the player. In a fierce battle such as the one to overthrow the oppressive Muammar Gaddafi, the lives of 50,000 people were lost, and hence it seems strange to talk about the deaths of 72 civilians and then hold NATO accountable, even though it saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It also seems strange to distort NATO’s intervention that saved the population of Benghazi from a genuine massacre. When human rights organizations adopt such stances, they are in fact working against the principle of human rights.
If it is our moral duty to observe human rights, then it is logical to take into account the rights of any group of people. If this is the case, then why is it considered an issue that 72 civilians were killed in a liberation battle in Libya, when this many people die in Syria every three days?
The rights of any group of people deserve the attention of the international community, but this community has recently been hit by a curse of “selective victimization”. Hence its value has diminished in the eyes of the people, who now see the international community standing incapable, bewildered and hesitant in front of human tragedies that are unprecedented in our modern history. Its prestige and legal standing has declined dramatically, and now it seems comparable to a system only fit to regulate traffic and pedestrians on the streets, let alone be concerned with people’s lives and their safety.
Human rights organizations are correct to emphasize the value of every Libyan civilian killed, but it is also important that their reports demonstrate realism and objectivity. Blaming NATO for the deaths of 72 civilians in a battle that brought about the downfall of the Gaddafi regime, which subjected 6 million Libyans to murder, torture and displacement throughout its forty year rule, reflects an idealistic outlook on a situation where it is difficult to measure humanity on paper, because the reality was chaotic, full of confusion and time sensitive.