March 10, 2011 / 4:59 PM / 8 years ago

Libyan bombing may be crimes against humanity: U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - Libya’s aerial bombing of civilians and use of heavy weapons on city streets must be investigated as possible crimes against humanity, the top U.N. human rights official said on Thursday.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also said she had received accounts of executions, rapes and disappearances in the north African country.

Reports of the “continued aerial bombardment of civilians and the use of military grade weapons and tanks on city streets” were outrageous and “would be investigated as possible crimes against humanity,” the former U.N. war crimes judge said.

Pillay, noting that the Security Council had referred Libya to the International Criminal Court, said security forces should not think they could commit crimes without facing prosecution.

Libyan tanks fired on rebel positions around the oil port of Ras Lanuf and warplanes hit another oil hub further east on Thursday as Muammar Gaddafi carried counter-attacks deeper into the insurgent heartland.

Libya has descended into civil war with increasing numbers of wounded civilians arriving in hospitals in eastern cities, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger called on Libyan authorities to grant the humanitarian agency access to western areas, including the capital Tripoli, to assess needs.

CIVIL WAR

“We have now a non-international armed conflict, or what you would call civil war,” Kellenberger told a news conference. “We see increasing numbers of wounded arriving at hospitals in the east and we are extremely worried.”

The ICRC, one of the few international aid agencies in Libya, has set up a base in rebel-held Benghazi in the east where it is helping to perform surgery and supply hospitals.

Kellenberger had no overall casualty figures for the country or reports from the western city of Zawiyah, which appeared to change hands twice on Wednesday.

Valerie Amos, U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said of Zawiyah in the U.N.’s latest report: “Residents reported bullets being fired, with women and children being killed and families trapped in their homes.”

Kellenber said fighting had intensified and doctors had witnessed a sharp rise in casualties, with at least 22 killed and 40 wounded in Misrata after air strikes. Some 55 wounded were treated in Ajdabiyah hospital in the east this week.

Top Libyan authorities, whom he declined to name, had told him there was no need for outside help in the areas held by Libyan forces, said Kellenberger, a former Swiss diplomat.

“We don’t know what the humanitarian needs are in areas controlled by Tripoli. I was told everything is under control, all hospitals are working perfectly, there is no need for external humanitarian assistance,” he said. “Our first priority is to have access to areas controlled by Tripoli.”

U.N. agencies remain shut out from Libya for security reasons, but are increasingly alarmed at sketchy reports of mounting casualties in besieged cities, U.N. officials said on Wednesday.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Robert Woodward

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