Our guest blogger is Nicolette Boehland, currently a fellow with CIVIC in Libya, previously researched the use of weapons in Libya with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.Nine months after the official end of the civil war, Libyans are living under serious threat from abandoned weapons, ranging from bullets and mortars to torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles.
During the time I’ve spent as a researcher in Libya, I have been struck by the ubiquitous presence of weapons. I’ve seen ammunition spilling out of bombed bunkers that are inadequately secured, the wall of a school left in rubble after the explosion of a stockpile of weapons nearby, and countless bullet casings left on sidewalks.
But I’ve been most affected by the stories of ordinary Libyans who have suffered as a result of these abandoned weapons — Libyans like Mustafa, a 22-year-old scrap metal collector. Mustafa was harvesting weapons with his brother, hitting a Grad rocket to disassemble it to get valuable parts out, when the warhead went off.
“His body was in pieces,” a bystander, Abduladim Amar, told our colleague at Human Rights Watch.
This tragic story is one of too many contained in a report I helped research and write as a member of a four-person team from the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. Explosive Situation: Qaddafi’s Abandoned Weapons and the Threat to Libya’s Civilians was released today in partnership with the Campaign for Innocent Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) and the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress (CAP).
We document in the report the ways that abandoned weapons threaten civilian lives in Libya. Children have been killed or injured while playing with weapons. Civilians of all ages continue to face dangers from the harvesting of weapons materials for sale or personal use. Clearance is being undertaken by untrained community members. People are displaying munitions as mementos of the revolution, in museums and in homes. In addition, Libyan militias have stockpiled weapons in an unsafe manner in populated areas, where an explosion could have catastrophic consequences.
Although these risks are severe, they can be significantly mitigated through proper stockpile management, clearance of munitions, risk education, and victim assistance programs. In our report, we call on the Libyan government to take the lead in creating a coordinated and comprehensive strategy for dealing with the problem — which is their duty under principles of international law. Meanwhile, the U.N., donor states and NGOs should provide ongoing and increased assistance for work related to abandoned ordnance.
Libya took another step toward stability in July with successful elections. But failure to address the problem of abandoned weapons could quickly destabilize the population. According to Doctor Ali Younis, head of the Medical Service Office in Sirte Hospital, the stakes are high: “If we keep the weapons, we lose our future.”