UN mission links EU money to slavery and detention in Libya

UN mission links EU money to slavery and detention in Libya
European funding to halt migration from Libya and build border regimes across North Africa has drawn criticism from human rights observers.
2 min read
28 March, 2023
Migrants detained in Libya report appalling conditions, extortion and even torture [Getty images]

An investigative team commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council has unearthed evidence of crimes in Libya including forced labour, extortion of migrants and even sexual slavery. The details were published in an unsparing new report on Monday.

The report also linked European funding to Libyan groups involved in the systematic abuse of migrants in Libya's regimes of capture and detention

Commissioned by the Human Rights Council in 2020 to investigate historic human rights abuses dating back to 2016, the fact-finding mission implicated Libya's state institutions in a brutal ecosystem of exploitation. 

"Smuggling, trafficking, enslavement, forced labour, imprisonment, and extortion of migrants generated significant revenue for individuals, armed groups, and State institutions," its report concluded. 

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"We're not saying that the EU and its member states have committed these crimes," investigator Chaloka Beyani told reporters on Monday, adding though that "the support given has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes".

"There is an urgent need for accountability to end this pervasive impunity," said Mohamed Auajjar, the Mission’s chair. 

The chair concluded, however, that the solution to improving human rights in Libya lies in the hands of Libyan authorities, and not the European Union.  

"We call on Libyan authorities to develop a human rights plan of action and a comprehensive, victim-centred roadmap on transitional justice without delay, and hold all those responsible for human rights violations accountable."

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Investigators found that state-affiliated entities in Libya received technical, logistical, and monetary support from the European Union and its member states for the interception and return of migrants to the North African country, among other things.

Human Rights Watch said some 32,450 migrants were intercepted by Libyan forces last year and "hauled back to arbitrary detention and abuse" in the country.

Libya has been unstable ever since the 2011 revolution that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The North African nation has since emerged as a popular, if extremely dangerous, route toward Europe for those fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East.

Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in the country, smuggling migrants through its lengthy borders with six nations. They pack desperate migrants into ill-equipped rubber boats, then embark on risky voyages across the Mediterranean Sea.

In recent years, the EU accelerated efforts to stem the flow of migrants through Libya. Some 455 million euros ($516 million) have been earmarked for Libya since 2015 through the EU’s Trust Fund for Africa, substantial amounts of which have gone to finance migration and border management.