Libya, never a stranger to tragedies, has witnessed quite the most horrendous carnage on Wednesday, indeed the deadliest outrage on the human condition. The 44 migrants who perished and at least 130, who were severely injured in the bombardment of a detention centre in Tripoli, were not potentially murderous militants. Far from it. They were the dispossessed who had left their hearth and home in North Africa and the Arab world. Having been buffeted from shore to shore in their quest for refuge, it was what they call a surgical strike by the warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). Forty-eight hours before the attack, the LNA had warned that it was stepping up air raids on the capital in response to recent military reverses. The commander of LNA’s air force operations, Maj Gen Mohamed Manfour, had warned that as part of “exhausting all traditional means” to capture Tripoli, LNA would conduct “strong and decisive airstrikes” against select targets. And so they did. To an extent, therefore, Wednesday’s butchery was grimly predictable.
It also signifies the failure of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) to provide the minimal protection to the hapless migrants, largely from Sudan and Morocco. That failure is heightened by the fact that the UN refugee agency had called for people to be removed from the detention centre, expressing fears that the migrants were likely to be victims of air raids being mounted by Haftar’s air force.
The detention centre is close to a military supply depot for militia working to protect the GNA. In the event, the migrants have been driven quicker to death than safe detention. While condemning the outrage as “a war crime and odious bloody carnage”, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called for an independent inquiry, which hopefully will be conducted without prevarication and indecisiveness that had marked the Western intervention against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
The casualties, who include many women and children, represent one of the largest single losses of civilian life since the civil war in 2011. In the wider perspective, it has been a catastrophic chapter in the narrative of the Arab Spring. The airstrike raises concerns over the European Union’s policy of aligning with the Libyan militia to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, which often leaves them at the mercy of brutal traffickers or stranded in squalid detention centres. The European Union has defended itself from claims that it was responsible for the plight of the migrants in Libya by backing Libyan coastguard efforts to deter the migrants from reaching Europe. The footage has been horrific to say the least ~ blood and body parts mixed with rubble and the belongings of the migrants. The squalor has come to a brutal end.