Norway: Loss of civilian lives during military action not IHL violation
Posted on December 23rd, 2011

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island  24-12-2011

In the wake of a section of the international community seeing holes in Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), NATO member Norway has acknowledged the impossibility in avoiding mistakes and civilian deaths during an intense military campaign.

Norway joined several countries, including the UK and France, in carrying out air attacks targeting Libya.

The Sri Lankan embassy in Oslo told The Island that a recent Norwegian language statement, attributed to Norwegian Defence Minister Espen Barth Eide, couldn’t have come at a better time for the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) facing severe criticism over the conduct of its troops during the final phase of the conflict.

The Norwegian Minister was responding to a New York Times (NYT) exclusive that it had obtained evidence to prove the NATO air campaign claimed the lives of up to 70 civilians, including 29 women and children. The revelation has been made in the backdrop of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declaring last month that there had been no confirmed reports of civilian losses.

He emphasized that Norway’s aim was to operate within International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The minister went on to declare that it was wrong to assert IHL violated because of civilians losses unless something unacceptable took place during a conflict.

Responding to a query, diplomatic sources said that Minister Eide’s statement had exposed the hypocrisy of those attacking GoSL over so-called accountability issues. Sources said that the Norwegian admission of civilian deaths should be used to highlight the difficulties in conducting large scale military operations amidst the presence of civilians.

The NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting) quoted Minister Eide as having said that it was almost unthinkable that high intensity air campaign directed at Libya could take place without mistakes and civilian losses. The Norwegian declined to rule out the possibility of Norwegian bombs killing civilians during the campaign. Norway fired about 10 per cent of bombs, which targeted Libya in one of the bloodiest campaigns, which ended with rebels backed by Western powers executing the ousted Libyan leader.

A Norway-funded evaluation of its failed peace initiatives in Sri Lanka, with the focus on the disastrous bid (2002-2009) blamed President Mahinda Rajapaksa for depending on military action at the expense of civilian interests.

Citing human rights organizations, which had contributed to the NYT report, Minister Eide said as the NATO had done nothing illegal there was no formal responsibility on the part of the organization to make an exact count of civilians killed.

The media also quoted Eide as having said the NATO was in the process of evaluating its efforts in Libya to find out whether there were lessons to be learnt. Claiming that there had been no demands to investigate each individual loss of civilian life, Eide asserted that civilian losses wouldn’t be one of the main points of the evaluation of the Norwegian effort. The minister said that the main point of their evaluation would be “ƒ”¹…”target achievement’ during the campaign.

Sri Lankan sources pointed out that the Norwegian Minister had inadvertently revealed the poor state of intelligence available to NATO air forces in spite of having the most sophisticated surveillance equipment. “We should be grateful to the Minister for being frank in his assessment,” a senior official said.

Minister Eide said NATO air missions, including some launched by Norway, had to be aborted due to given targets being something else than when the operations were planned.

Parliamentarian Eide explained that Norway was mostly concerned with achieving its Libyan targets. “That is how it is when you get a task from the UN. Here it was about destroying as much as possible of Gaddafi’s military power, with the least possible negative consequences for the civilian population. And we have been much better at achieving that target in Libya than during earlier campaigns,” he was quoted as having said.

Commenting on the number of civilians killed as reported by the NYT, the Norwegian politician said the actual number of non-combatants killed due to NATO air action could be even higher.

“In an armed conflict people die and one has the responsibility to make sure that one reduces to an absolute minimum that it is the wrong people. But it is not so that an exposure that civilians have been killed is itself not a big scandal.”


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