Migrants and Refugees Trapped in Libya Face Crimes Against Humanity


In Libya, migrants and refugees face a litany of gross human rights violations in an often endless cycle of violence in which they are passed from one intermediary to another. There is no shortage of reports detailing the extreme violence, degrading treatment and inhuman conditions that they are forced to endure as soon as they enter the country. This report argues that the well- documented abuses against migrants and refugees in Libya may amount to crimes against humanity.

The report complements the ICC Communication submitted by the Organisations in November 2021 to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC. The thorough 250-page Communication is based on research conducted by the Organisations over the course of several years and provides a detailed legal analysis of the crimes committed against migrants and refugees in Libya, with the aim of supporting the opening of an investigation by the ICC into these crimes and taking serious steps towards ensuring accountability, and ultimately justice for the victims of these crimes.8

The report also aims to counter the misleading narrative according to which migrants and refugees allegedly leave their country of origin and cross Libya with the sole objective of travelling to Europe through smuggling networks. This narrative is inaccurate, ignoring the real horror and violence that migrants and refugees experience in Libya, and conflates the terms “smuggling” and “trafficking”, obscuring the exploitation to which many are subjected. The interchangeable use of the terms “smuggling” and “trafficking” reveals a perspective focused exclusively on preventing the arrival of migrants and refugees on European shores which ignores the fact that some migrants and refugees never intended to cross the Mediterranean but were forced to do so. In fact, the two terms are not interchangeable: unlike smuggling, trafficking lacks consent and is characterised by the ongoing exploitation of the person trafficked. The Organisations’ analysis has shown that migrants and refugees often turn to smugglers to enter Libya because of a lack of legal pathways to protection. Once in the country, they face gross abuses, often becoming victims of trafficking and different forms of exploitation and slavery.

After providing an overview of the migration situation in Libya, including the impact of the conflict on migrants and refugees and the development of the smuggling and trafficking industries in the country, the report draws on the ICC Communication’s legal analysis of the crimes committed against migrants and refugees and summarises its key findings: in Libya, migrants and refugees face a multitude of crimes that may amount to crimes against humanity. The crimes identified are committed in a widespread and systematic manner pursuant to a state policy and therefore meet the contextual element for crimes against humanity. These crimes include imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty, enslavement, murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, other forms of sexual violence, persecution, and other inhumane acts. This report focuses specifically on the crimes of enslavement, murder, torture and rape.

While the underlying ICC Communication does not touch upon possible criminal responsibility of European actors under the Rome Statute, this report conducts further analysis to highlight the role of European policies in the commission of these crimes. Despite the well-documented abuses against migrants and refugees in Libya over recent years, migrants and refugees have become increasingly trapped in the country as the result of extreme migration management practices by European states and the EU, implemented in cooperation with Libyan actors known to be implicated in criminal activities and gross human rights violations. The EU and its member states continue to use a problematic security narrative to justify their migration policies in the Mediterranean relying on “border externalisation” tactics – sometimes involving “pushbacks” focused on containing migrants and refugees within Libyan borders. The report addresses the role of European actors in contributing to the situation that migrants and refugees face in Libya, and their responsibility in crimes that may amount to crimes against humanity – in breach of their international obligations.

Full titleNo Way Out: Migrants and Refugees Trapped in Libya Face Crimes Against Humanity
Media typeUnspecified
Topics Detention, Deportation & Pushbacks, International governmental organisations, IGOs (UNHCR, IOM), Migrant Labour & Exploitation
Regions North Africa

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