Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians a “war crime for which those responsible must be held to account”.
However, the group made it clear that the deaths of civilians from Egypt’s retaliatory strikes is no less unwarranted.
In a Monday statement, the prominent international rights watchdog said that the “Libyan authorities should take immediate steps to bring the perpetrators to justice”. It was referring to the militant group affiliated with “Islamic State” that has exploited a political vacuum in the North African country.
The internationally recognised, but effectively impotent, Libyan government based in exile in Tobruk condemned the beheadings and is coordinating militarily with the Egyptian air force. However, the opposition government based in Tripoli criticised the retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes for violating the country’s sovereignty. The Tripoli authority has said that there is no proof that the killings were committed in Libya, adding that it is impossible to prove who the perpetrators are.
The video was released on Sunday by an armed group holding the men captive, and showcased the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts amid threats directed to Christians. The group pledged allegiance to the extremist group “Islamic State” (IS) in November.
Egypt responded to the video by launching airstrikes, targeting Islamist militants in Derna, eastern Libya. However, a Derna resident told HRW that the air strikes killed at least six civilians.
“ISIS is again horrifying the world by perpetrating war crimes, this time showing no mercy in Libya,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. “But any military engagement with ISIS should take all possible steps to spare civilian lives.”
HRW called for the UN to establish an “international investigative mechanism” to investigate “war crimes” occurring on Libyan territories, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor to examine the incident.
The watchdog also called on Libya and Egypt to investigate into the civilian casualties of these air strikes, and “to take feasible steps to protect civilians”.
The internationally-recognised Libyan government, led by Abdullah Al-Thinni, confirmed to Daily News Egypt however that the airstrikes targeted camps and ammunition stores of militants.
Amnesty International condemned the “cold-blooded murder” and “atrocious killing” of the Copts in Libya. The group also noted that “[n]othing could justify the cold-blooded murder of the men who appear to have been targeted solely on account of their faith”.
It called on the Egyptian government to ensure the victims’ families receive psychological and social support, since Egyptian Coptic Christians “suffered discrimination for decades”. Amnesty International also said the Egyptian authorities have “failed to protect the community from numerous sectarian attacks”.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb announced Monday that the victim’s families will be granted “martyr privileges”, with the Ministry of Social Solidarity set to disburse EGP 100,000 and pensions for the families of each of the Copts killed.
The families will also be provided with full education and medical support, as five of the relatives of the victims are “traumatised”, and were transferred to Samallout hospital, read a Monday Caabinet statement
Amnesty International expressed concern over the seven additional Egyptians, most of them Copts, who have gone missing in the area of Sirte and Misratah.
State-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported that 35 Egyptians were kidnapped in various locations across Libya, with nobody claiming the abduction at the time of printing.