UN complaint highlights the serious and systematic crimes suffered by migrants in Libya

November 22, 2023

REDRESS and Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) have filed a complaint before a UN body on behalf of an Eritrean migrant which corroborates the serious crimes, including enslavement, enforced disappearance and torture, that migrants and refugees have been systematically subjected to in Libya.

The complaint before the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a human rights treaty to which Libya is a party, seeks to hold the Libyan State to account for failing to protect this migrant from torture and other grave human rights violations, and to secure reparations for him.

M.T. (a pseudonym given to him to protect his identity), from Eritrea, was trafficked and forcibly disappeared in Libya in 2015 as he attempted to travel to Europe with the aid of people smugglers, after having fled persecution in Ethiopia. He was detained for eight months in various detention centres by armed men - some thought to be human traffickers - and other military actors which appeared to be affiliated with the Libyan Arab Armed Forces.

In this period, M.T. was subjected to torture, forced labour (a modern form of slavery), and enforced disappearance, among other human rights violations. He was repeatedly held in small, lightless, cold cells with no food or toilet access. For periods, he was subjected to daily, relentless beatings using electric cables and rifle butts. In one centre, he was given only salty water to drink and forced to take drugs, while frequently threatened with death. M.T. also experienced a mock execution during which a gun was fired close to his head. He was never told the reasons for his detention.

M.T. eventually received asylum in the UK, but he continues to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his traumatic experiences in Libya.

M.T.’s experience is far from unusual. For years, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers travelling through Libya have faced similar ordeals. In March 2023, a UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity were committed against migrants in detention throughout Libya. The Mission documented numerous cases of arbitrary detention, murder, torture, rape, enslavement, sexual slavery, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance, confirming their widespread practice in Libya, and called on the Libyan authorities to take urgent steps to change this situation.

Cristina Orsini, Senior Programmes Advisor at LFJL added: “M.T.’s case confirms the findings of the Fact-Finding Mission about crimes committed against migrants in Libya and should serve as a reminder to third countries to cease all direct and indirect support to Libyan actors involved in committing these crimes and violations."

The joint submission from REDRESS and LFJL to the UN Human Rights Committee argues that M.T. suffered several violations of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, including torture, arbitrary and unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, slavery and forced labour, trafficking, and discrimination. Libya failed to meet its human rights obligations because, even though M.T might have been held in unofficial detention facilities, these violations took place in Libya, and Libyan officials knew about the pattern of detentions, ill-treatment, and torture of migrants, and at times, likely participated in the violations suffered by M.T.

Chris Esdaile, Legal Advisor at REDRESS, said: “The gross violations suffered by migrants in Libya continue unabated, and there is no evidence that Libya is taking any steps to reverse the widespread and systematic abuses or to provide reparations to victims. There is an urgent need for accountability for these abuses, to end this pervasive practice.”

The joint submission requests the UN Human Rights Committee find Libya responsible for these violations, and order Libya to provide M.T. with reparation, such as compensation and rehabilitation, and the adoption of non-repetition measures to avoid similar violations being suffered by other migrants, which continue to be perpetrated to this day.

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

Alexandra Azua, Communications Manager at Lawyers for Justice in Libya: alexandra@libyanjustice.org / +44 (0)7908427779 or Eva Sanchis, Head of Communications at REDRESS: eva@redress.org / +44 (0)20 7793 1777 (office) and +44 (0)785 711 0076 (mobile).

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