Libya Is Not a Safe Place

Verändern | SOS Humanity

Content warning: The following article refers to general acts of violence, sexualised violence, torture and forced labour.

Libya is not a safe place for refugees! This is confirmed by the newly published report commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which summarises the findings of the independent Fact-Finding Mission in Libya (FFM). Once again, the report states that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity are being committed against migrants in Libya [1]. Like its predecessors, this report also documents violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Libya.

In this article, we briefly outline the history of the Fact-Finding Mission and summarise the most important findings in the context of the central Mediterranean refugee route. Furthermore, we formulate concrete demands for the EU and its member states.

Background of the Fact-Finding Mission in Libya

In order to investigate human rights violations in Libya since 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the independent Fact-Finding Mission for Libya on 22 June 2020, initially for a period of one year. The mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission was extended twice – it expired on 30 June 2022 [2]. In addition to uncovering human rights violations, the findings are primarily intended to help prevent a further deterioration of the human rights situation. They should also enable those responsible to be held accountable.

The Fact-Finding Mission’s reports submitted in October 2021 and March 2022 already indicated that migrants in Libya were subjected to regular and organised human rights violations. Despite these findings, no action was taken against these crimes, either in Libya or by the international community.

On the contrary, the new report shows that the Libyan authorities continue to arbitrarily imprison people. This includes many people who were intercepted while fleeing across the Mediterranean. Both the EU and individual member states such as Italy and Malta continue to cooperate with the Libyan authorities, including the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, to prevent migration to Europe.

Findings of the Fact-Finding Mission

Altogether, the Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity continue to be committed against migrants in Libya. Migrants in Libya are subjected to widespread and systematic arbitrary detention. Cases of murder, torture, inhumane treatment, sexualised violence, persecution and enslavement of migrants by state authorities, militias, armed groups and human traffickers have been documented.

Massive human rights violations in detention camps
As early as March 2022, the Fact-Finding Mission reported that there are reasonable grounds to believe that human rights and international humanitarian law are being violated in several detention camps in Libya. Torture and rape are systematically used in the detention camps as a means of intimidation, punishment, humiliation or exploitation.
There are reports of electric shocks, burns (including cigarette burns), regular beatings, rape and sexualised violence against men, women, boys and girls and/or other brutal forms of physical and psychological torture. This also includes witnessing the rape or execution of fellow prisoners.

Qualified migrants are sometimes forced to work outside the detention camp for individuals or companies for free. Others – including unaccompanied children – are forced into unpaid labour in agriculture, factories or other locations. Often they are not appropriately provided with food or water.

Cycle of violence
The mission notes that “the persistent, systematic and widespread nature of these practices by the competent Libyan authority, the Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), and other actors involved shows that mid- and high-level officials are involved in the cycle of violence”[3].

The human rights violations take place with the involvement and cooperation of various actors, including state authorities. This also includes the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, which intercepts refugees at sea and forces them back into the cycle of violence.

Several migrants interviewed reported collusion between smugglers, human traffickers and state agencies such as the DCIM or the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. One refugee said that he recognised smugglers he was in contact with for his journey across the Mediterranean on board a boat of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard when they intercepted him at sea: “This happened to me twice. If we tell them we recognised them, they beat us.” [4]

Violence against women, girls, LGBTQI* [5] and Libyan nationals
The documented human rights violations were committed both in official and unofficial detention camps for migrants and against Libyan nationals, for example on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, women and girls in Libya face a variety of discriminatory challenges and obstacles. These prevent them from fully exercising their human rights and participating in public life.

SOS Humanity’s demands

The findings of the third report of the Fact-Finding Mission once again confirm what people on board our rescue ships have been telling us since 2016 and describing as the “Libyan hell”. They also coincide with the statements of Refugees in Libya, a group of self-organised refugees who have been drawing attention to the inhumane treatment of refugees in Libya through various protests.

Altogether, the documented human rights violations repeatedly demonstrate that Libya cannot be considered a safe place under international maritime law: returning refugees to Libya contradicts both international maritime and refugee law as well as EU law!

That is why SOS Humanity is calling on the European Union and its member states to:

Comply with applicable law: Refugees rescued at sea must not be returned to Libya.
Stop supporting breaches of the law and human rights violations: The EU and its member states must immediately stop training, equipping and funding the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.
Ensure the human right to seek asylum: Safe and legal refugee routes are needed so that no one has to board an unseaworthy boat to find protection.

Related links

Full report
Overview page of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Libya
[1] We use the term migrants here in line with the language used by the Fact-Finding Mission. There, the term is used comprehensively and includes migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. See: Report of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (A/HCR/50/63), p. 12, para. 69.
[2] In a joint letter, several organisations call for a continuation of the Fact-Finding Mission: “Its renewal is imperative to continue investigating ongoing crimes and violations, to shed light on the human rights situation, and to send a strong message that the prevailing environment of impunity can no longer be tolerated.”
[3] See: Report of the Independent Fact-Finding-Mission on Libya (A/HCR/50/63), p. 13, para. 75.
[4] See: Report of the Independent Fact-Finding-Mission on Libya (A/HCR/50/63), p. 13, para. 73.
[5] LGBTQI* is an abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer and Intersex. The * stands for other gender identities and sexual orientations.

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