Lawsuit filed vs NATO regarding Libya bombing

July 28, 2011 - 9:13 AM

BRUSSELS (AP) — Attorneys have filed a civil lawsuit in Belgium accusing NATO of killing 13 civilians, including 3 children, by bombing a residential compound of a former government official in Libya.

Marcel Ceccaldi, a Paris-based lawyer, said Thursday he also has asked the Brussels District Court to send two experts to Libya to assess physical and psychological damage from the attack near Tripoli in June so that he can determine what monetary compensation to seek from NATO.

The military alliance is based in Brussels, and its spokeswoman, Carmen Romero, said Thursday that all NATO air strikes in Libya are aimed at military targets and that great care is taken to avoid civilian casualties. Western air forces have been bombing Libya for nearly 5 months but have failed to dislodge Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

Ceccaldi said that although international organizations such as NATO enjoy diplomatic immunity in criminal cases, they fall under the jurisdiction of Belgian justice in civil suits.

"We have brought an action before the Brussels (civil court) against NATO for our client who ... has lost his wife and three children in a NATO bombardment," Ceccaldi said. "He wishes to be recognized as a victim and to receive moral and material reparations for what he has undergone."

Ceccaldi and Belgian lawyer Ghislain Dubois are representing Khalid el Hamidi, a retired Libyan general and member of the government's Revolutionary Council whose home was destroyed by two bombs on June 20 at 2:30 a.m. The explosions demolished the two houses in a compound in the town of Surman, 70 kilometers (45 miles) west of Tripoli. Thirteen people died, including three children, Hamidi's relatives and household help.

At the time, NATO acknowledged it had targeted the compound but described it as a "command and control" center. Ceccaldi said it was a residence in a quiet civilian neighborhood and was therefore not a legitimate target under the Geneva Convention on the rules of war.

Ceccaldi also urged the International Criminal Court to take the Hamidi case, which he called an "evident war crime." He said the court should consider NATO's commanders as liable for the actions of their subordinates, such as air force bombers.

The court, based in The Hague, the Netherlands, has issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi for crimes against humanity.

The tribunal has been criticized for alleged bias, with its attention said to focus exclusively on leaders of developing countries. Earlier this month, the 53-member African Union told its members to disregard the court's arrest warrant for Gadhafi.

Ceccaldi said the Hamidi case would provide "a good opportunity" for the International Criminal Court to restore its reputation by indicting NATO officials.