Fortress Europe: Threatening the Human Rights of Migrants
On Tuesday, 26 September 2017, Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) in collaboration with the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies held a side event entitled Fortress Europe: Threatening the Human Rights of Migrants. The side event took place during the 36th regular session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC). It aimed to shed light on the role of the European Union (EU) and EU Member States in the migration crisis and how their policy on migration is threatening the human rights of migrants. Libya was the case study of focus given the extensive violations taking place against migrants and the EU Member States’ involvement with Libya on the issue.
The speakers were Conor Kenny, Doctor at Medecins Sans Frontieres; Elham Saudi, LFJL’s Director; Matteo de Bellis, Researcher at Amnesty International’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia; and Tareg Ben Ramadan, Researcher and representative of the Coalition of Libyan Human Rights Organisations. Massimo Frigo, Legal Adviser in the European Programme of the International Commission of Jurists, chaired the event.
The panel discussed and made recommendations to the EU, EU Member States, Libya and the HRC to ensure accountability for human rights violations being committed against thousands of migrants. Such violations include inhumane and degrading treatment, torture, forced labour and sexual violence.
Tareg Ben Ramadan described the situation in migrant detention centres in Libya. He described dire conditions in which these migrants are held. Regular flooding of sewage takes place and the detainees are malnutritioned given the little food they receive twice a day. The migrants also face regular beatings by the prison guards and attempts of rape of female migrants were also documented. Ramadan called on EU Member States supporting Libyan detention centres to ensure that such support is not being used to increase the human rights violations against migrants, notably when funding Libya’s detention centres.
Conor Kenny discussed his experience on rescue boats in the Mediterranean. He described the suffering of migrants who attempted to escape from Libya. The migrants he rescued at sea showed signs that they had been severely tortured. Kenny also reflected on testimonies he obtained from migrants he saved and highlighted that “migrants are sold on slave markets based on their body characteristics”.
Matteo de Bellis reflected on the recent actions of EU Member States to address the migration crisis, in particular through cooperation with the Libyan Coastguard and other actors to stop refugees and migrants from crossing the central Mediterranean. He noted that the humanitarian work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attempting to rescue migrants at sea is being hampered by European states. He insisted that these measures are resulting in the trapping of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants in Libya, where they are exposed to widespread human rights violations. He called on Libya to abolish the current system of automatic detention and called on the EU Member States to guarantee safe routes for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to allow them to leave Libya.
Finally, Elham Saudi highlighted the urgent need for individual criminal accountability for human rights violations committed against migrants. Saudi called on the HRC to put in place an independent monitoring mechanism to identify those responsible for abuses and violations. She insisted that the Memorandum of Understanding between Libya and Italy must be revisited. Saudi stated “Contrary to the frequent narrative, the cases we have documented reveal that Libya constitutes a ‘push factor’ driving migrants away from Libya to Europe, as opposed to the alleged ‘pull factor’ of building a better life in Europe.”