A report, "Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO's Air Campaign in Libya," examines eight NATO airstrikes resulting in 72 civilian deaths, including 20 women and 24 children, Human Rights Watch said Monday in a release.
The report is based on one or more field investigations of each bombing site. It includes interviews with witnesses and local residents.
"NATO took important steps to minimize civilian casualties during the Libya campaign, but information and investigations are needed to explain why 72 civilians died," said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch and principal author of the report. "Attacks are allowed only on military targets, and serious questions remain in some incidents about what exactly NATO forces were striking."
NATO's air campaign in Libya from March to October 2011 was mandated by the U.N. Security Council to protect civilians from attacks by security forces under Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed in October.
Human Rights Watch said the absence of a clear military target at seven of the eight sites raises concerns of possible laws-of-war violations that should be investigated.
Human Rights Watch called on NATO to investigate all potentially unlawful attacks and to report its findings to the U.N. Security Council. The rights organization said the matter should be addressed during a NATO summit in Chicago May 20-21.
Human Rights Watch also recommended that NATO consider a reparations program for civilian victims of the attacks, similar to what NATO has done in Afghanistan.
NATO officials told Human Rights Watch all targets were legitimate because they were military objectives. But it has not provided specific information to support those claims, mostly saying a targeted site was a "command and control node" or "military staging ground," HRW said.
The report said the most serious incident occurred Aug. 8, 2011, in Majer, where NATO airstrikes on two family compounds killed 34 civilians and wounded more than 30, Human Rights Watch said.