European Union backing for Libyan authorities who stop and detain migrants means the bloc has “aided and abetted” rights violations against migrants, an investigator for a U.N. mission said on Monday.
The EU and member states have supported and trained the Libyan coastguard, which returns migrants stopped at sea to detention centres, and have funded Libyan border management programmes via the Italian government.
The investigator, Chaloka Beyani, was speaking after a U.N. fact-finding mission presented a report saying crimes against humanity were carried out against migrants in detention centres.
“Although we’re not saying that the EU and its member states have committed these crimes. The point is that the support given has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes,” said Beyani, one of the independent mission’s members.
A European Commission spokesperson for migration did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
However, Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for EU external affairs, told a news briefing before the report’s release: “We are providing assistance to help them (Libya) to improve their performance when it comes to search and rescue, be it with vessels, be it with equipment or with training with the focus on human rights.”
The criticism of the EU echoes that from the U.N. human rights chief and from Human Rights Watch and other rights groups in previous years.
The mission, presenting its final report on an array of abuses committed by all sides in Libya, said it would pass any evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. Its research was based on trips to the country, more than 400 interviews, plus photos and videos.
The mission said both state security forces and armed militia groups have committed crimes. The militia groups acted to repress dissent and carried out murders, rapes, enslavement, judicial killings and forced disappearances.
Libyan authorities were not immediately available to comment. They have previously denied any systematic abuse of migrants.
Libya has had little peace since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising and split in 2014 between warring eastern and western factions. Major fighting ended in 2020, but there has been little progress to a political solution and armed factions dominate on the ground.
“The violations and abuses investigated by the mission were connected primarily to the consolidation of power and wealth by militias and other state-affiliated groups,” the report said.
“Trafficking, enslavement, forced labour, imprisonment, extortion and smuggling of vulnerable migrants generated significant revenue for individuals, groups and state institutions,” it added.
Abuses were particularly acute for the 670,000 migrants in Libya, who the report said faced “an abhorrent cycle of violence” from the moment smugglers took them into Libya and involving repeated detentions without judicial review.
The report will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council later this week. Sometimes evidence gathered from probes it mandates are used in international court cases.
“The alarm bell has been rung and sent to the international community,” said Beyani. “Hopefully (it) will act on the findings.”