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U.S. and NATO Forces Killed Dozens of Innocent Children and Women in Libya

In their rush to take down the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi last year in Libya, NATO forces wound up killing at least 72 civilians—including 24 children and 20 women—who in most cases were not even in areas where there was a military presence, a violation of international law, according to a report released by Human Right Watch.

The report directs much-needed focus on a subject that doesn’t get nearly enough attention when the U.S. and its Western allies, such as the U.K., France, Italy and Norway, wade into countries in Africa and the Middle East to deal with regimes they consider unfriendly—the unconscionable toll their bombs take on the innocent citizens, many of them children, who are wiped out and dismissed as collateral damage.

But organizations like Human Rights Watch are dedicated to making sure their stories get told as much as possible. They issued the report as NATO members are gathering for a summit next week in Chicago.

For the report, HRW focused on eight specific incidents last summer in which the validity of NATO bombing strikes have been called into questions after dozens of innocent civilians were killed. The HRW inspectors visited the scenes—in some case the day after the bombing—interviewed survivors, examined medical reports and death certificates, reviewed satellite imagery, and collected photographs of the wounded and dead.

NATO admitted that it made a mistake in just one of the eight incidents: a June 19 bombing that as a result of “weapons system failure” hit a family home in a residential neighborhood in Tripoli, killing five people and wounding eight.

International law requires that NATO provide “prompt and suitable compensation to families for civilian deaths and injuries and loss of property.” Nothing like that has happened in any of these cases, including the one where NATO admitted its mistake.

Since the seven-month campaign in Libya involved roughly 9,700 strike sorties and dropped over 7,700 precision-guided bombs, NATO has indicated that it believes the level of mistakes and unintended consequences was relatively low. But these international laws were created for a reason; when little children are incinerated because they just happen to be living in the wrong house in the wrong neighborhood, someone needs to be held accountable.

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