Case of Migrant Tortured in Detention in Libya Reaches UN Body

June 18, 2021

Libya failed to protect an Eritrean national from being tortured and suffering other grave human rights violations in detention and must provide him with reparations, Lawyers for Justice in Libya and REDRESS said in a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Committee ahead of World Refugee Day on the 20th of June.

Mr Tariku Asefa was trafficked and forcibly disappeared in Libya in May 2014 as he attempted to travel to the UK with the aid of people smugglers. He was detained for over a year and subjected to torture, extortion and forced labour, amounting to a modern form of slavery.

Mr Asefa’s harrowing experience is far from unusual. For years, countless migrants and asylum seekers attempting to travel through Libya have faced similar ordeals.

Partly to escape religious persecution in Eritrea, Mr Asefa and his father fled to Ethiopia in the mid-nineties when Mr Asefa was around three years old. After being forcibly returned to Eritrea they fled again, this time to Sudan, where Mr Asefa’s father was arrested in 2010 for living in the country illegally and handed over to the Eritrean authorities. Mr Asefa has not seen or heard from his father since. Fearing that he would meet the same fate, in 2014 he began a perilous journey to the UK through Libya and Italy, arranged by people smugglers.   

While travelling in an overcrowded lorry with limited food and water, somewhere in the desert on the way to Libya Mr Asefa and the other passengers were robbed at gunpoint. After reaching Libya, a different group of armed men captured them and took them to a prison-like compound.

They kept Mr Asefa in a cell with about 50 other men with only two or three toilets between them. The guards gave him a small amount of plain pasta and one or two cups of water a day and only allowed him to wash once every one or two weeks.

Mr Asefa’s treatment in Libya amounted to trafficking and a modern form of slavery. His captors demanded money to secure his release. Because he could not pay, he was regularly punched and beaten with a plastic hose and was denied medical treatment for his injuries. Five or six times during his detention he was moved from the compound and forced to do heavy work without compensation, digging trenches or tunnels or carrying heavy loads.

Eventually Mr Asefa was able to arrange a ransom payment, and after around 14 months of detention he was released in the summer of 2015. He attempted to cross the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat and was rescued by the Italian authorities, reaching the UK a month later where he is seeking asylum. The trauma he suffered as result of his experiences have left him with lasting physical and psychological damage.

Chris Esdaile, Legal Advisor at REDRESS said: “Official collusion and corruption allow smuggling and trafficking operations to flourish in Libya with impunity. The Libyan authorities had knowledge of how migrants were being treated but took no steps to prevent it. For these reasons, Mr Asefa’s detention also amounts to an enforced disappearance. It is vital – both for Mr Asefa and for other migrants – that there is accountability for these abuses.”

In their submission, the organisations have requested the UN Human Rights Committee to order Libya to provide reparation to Mr Asefa, including compensation, rehabilitation, investigation of the events and a public apology. They also recommended that, to ensure such acts do not happen again, Libya should adopt legislation to prevent violations against migrants and train public officials on the rights of migrants.

Jürgen Schurr, Head of Law at Lawyers for Justice in Libya said: “Mr Asefa suffered horrific abuse in Libya while seeking safety and freedom from persecution. For years, such incidents have been routine, and this case illustrates the plight of many in Libya where extortion is a key driver for trafficking of migrants and refugees. We call on the UN Human Rights Committee to recognise Libya's responsibility for what happened and call on Libya to put an immediate end to these practices and fulfil Mr Asefa’s and other victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation.”

Notes to Editors

  • The UN Human Rights Committee is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a human rights treaty to which Libya is a party.
  • Under the first Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, a subsidiary treaty to which Libya is also a party, the UN Human Rights Committee can consider communications from individuals claiming to be victims of violations of any of the rights set forth in the ICCPR.
  •  Lawyers for Justice in Libya and REDRESS argue that Libya is responsible for several human rights violations against Mr Asefa as a result of its lack of an adequate legal and policy framework to deal with migration in a way that complies with human rights standards: by its tolerance of the running of migration detention centres by militias and other non-state actors; by its direct involvement in and tolerance of smuggling and trafficking networks; and the impunity and lack of remedies in this case. As a result, Libya has breached Articles 2 (equal rights, legislative framework, and access to remedy), 7 (torture), 8 (slavery and forced labour), 9 (liberty, security and arbitrary detention), 10 (humane and dignified treatment in detention), 16 (recognition before the law) and 26 (discrimination) of the ICCPR.
  • The UN Human Rights Committee will now consider Lawyers for Justice in Libya and REDRESS’ joint submission and transmit it to Libya for their comments. Ultimately the Committee will adopt public conclusions, a process which may take several years.



For more information or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson please contact:

  • Tim Molyneux, Strategic Communications Manager at Lawyers for Justice in Libya: / +44 (0)7501 395067.
  •  Eva Sanchis, Head of Communications at REDRESS: / +44 (0)20 7793 1777 (office) and +44 (0)785 711 0076 (mobile). 

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