Routes to Justice for Migrants in Libya

by Lawyers for Justice in Libya
Routes to Justice for Migrants in Libya

On World Refugee Day (20 June 2023), LFJL called out the violent policies of European states and the European Union (EU) that continue to contribute to the deaths of migrants and refugees, at sea and in Libya. This came just days after one of the most fatal shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in recent years, where a boat carrying migrants and refugees departing from Tobruk, Eastern Libya capsized within Greek waters. It was reported that more than 80 people died and an estimated 500 people are still missing or presumed to have died. The lack of safe and legal passage to Europe continues to force migrants and refugees to make deadly journeys in search of refuge.

Without adequate accountability measures, the ‘Fortress Europe’ policies upheld by the EU continue to create a hostile environment, where violence towards migrants, refugees, and NGOs that support them is normalised and even legitimised. In July, the Libyan coastguard fired shots during rescue missions conducted by SOS Mediterranée. These shots were reportedly fired from a Libyan coastguard vessel provided by the EU, once again highlighting European involvement in violence towards migrants, refugees and additionally rescue workers.


Moving towards accountability and justice

In May, the International Crime Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan briefed the UN Security Council on his office’s investigations in Libya. Prosecutor Khan highlighted the issuance of four new arrest warrants for Libya that remain under seal while two additional arrest warrants are currently under review against suspects allegedly involved in committing international crimes in Libya. Whilst the new arrest warrants signify a key turning point for accountability in Libya, arrest warrants alone do not equate to justice. Concrete steps must be taken to bring the accused to trial before the ICC.

Prosecutor Khan also emphasized the ICC’s support for national prosecutions of crimes against migrants and refugees within Dutch courts, as mentioned in our previous project update. LFJL continues to urge the ICC and national prosecutors to strengthen their efforts on crimes against humanity prosecutions as smuggling and human trafficking charges alone do not capture the gravity of the crimes committed, as documented by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM). The ICC while continuing to support domestic prosecutions by third states must urgently open its own investigation into these crimes and take the necessary steps to prosecute those most responsible and uphold the rights of the victims. To advocate this, the LFJL team undertook a mission to The Hague in June to attend the annual ICC-NGO roundtables convened by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court to strengthen the dialogue between civil society voices and ICC Principals and officials.


Ongoing advocacy efforts

In April, LFJL submitted information on homelessness of migrants and refugees in Libya to the Special Rapporteur (SR) on contemporary forms of slavery. These findings illustrated the link between homelessness and contemporary forms of slavery – a nexus of particular interest to the SR on contemporary forms of slavery ahead of his report to the 54th session of the Human Rights Council. LFJL found migrants and refugees in Libya to be particularly vulnerable due to their lack of access to fundamental freedoms and protections. Through providing relevant inputs to Special Rapporteur’s reports such as this, LFJL aims to amplify its recommendations to the international community, draw the attention of relevant international actors to the Libya situation and drive them to take action. In a welcome development, in May 2023 a group of six UN experts, including the SR on contemporary forms of slavery, issued a communication to the Libyan authorities expressing their concern over breaches of international law, including international human rights law and international criminal law, in relation to the trafficking, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of migrants and refugees in Libya.

In July, LFJL joined Refugees in Libya and many other organisations and activists for a demonstration in Brussels in solidarity with migrants and refugees trapped in Libya and impacted by violent EU border policies. This demonstration was mobilised in response to the EU Council summit, which was happening in the same week and where migration was a key agenda item. In this dynamic weekend of solidarity, members of the LFJL team met with survivors and different organisations and activists dedicated to supporting migrants and refugees in Libya.

Also in July, LFJL submitted, jointly with other civil society organisations, information to Members of the European Parliament ahead of an Exchange of Views on Migration Cooperation with Libya. The organisations highlighted alarming developments in the east of Libya, including in relation to a meeting between Khalifa Haftar and Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.


What’s next?

What is deeply clear from recent news is that justice and accountability for violations and crimes against migrants and refugees is more necessary than ever. LFJL will continue to collaborate with and support organisations and grassroots movements that have access to migrants and refugees inside Libya, such as Refugees in Libya. LFJL will also continue to monitor and advocate for the opening of an investigation into the international crimes committed against migrants and refugees by the ICC and domestic prosecutors. And we are also exploring ways to urge the UNHCR to intervene in a number of specific cases of arbitrary detention.

Thank you for your continued and generous support. To receive regular updates about the work we do across all of our programmes, you can subscribe to our mailing list.

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In March 2023, the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) released their awaited final report on their investigation of human rights and humanitarian law violations and abuses in Libya since 2016. Throughout its mandate, LFJL has strongly supported the FFM through the submission of evidence and information and have closely followed its work.

Within its report the Mission stated to have interviewed over 100 migrants on their experiences within Libya and on this basis of evidence, established that there are reasonable grounds to believe that migrants and refugees across Libya, especially within detention centres, are victims of crimes against humanity. There were a number of harrowing human rights violations and crimes against humanity that were found and documented by the Mission, such as trafficking, torture, sexual violence, enslavement and other inhumane acts. The Mission also found reasonable grounds to believe that Libyan officials within the Libyan Coast Guard, Stability Support Apparatus and the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration had colluded with traffickers and smugglers.

The Mission further reported on the evidence of systematic torture within detention centres, which has contributed to suicides among migrants and refugees. Sexual violence is prevalent within detention centres, resulting in pregnancies, with evidence of migrants and refugees giving birth under extreme difficulties and without professional medical support. Enslavement, including sexual slavery, against migrants has been documented as occurring within detention centres. The report also highlighted the inhumane standards of hygiene and health – with evidence of overcrowding, lack of mattresses and cases of starvation.

Despite the findings from the final FFM report, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) have failed to establish a follow-up accountability mechanism. The resolution instead focused on technical assistance and capacity building. With the overwhelming evidence of crimes against humanity and dire human rights violations, LFJL continues to urge both the HRC to take appropriate action and the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan to urgently open an investigation into these crimes and take the necessary steps to prosecute those most responsible.

Collaboration to push for justice and accountability

Over the last few months, LFJL has continued to build networks with Libyan and international organisations on monitoring and documenting the situation for migrants and refugees in Libya and advocating for protection and remedy.

As part of LFJL’s wider advocacy strategy and in the side lines of the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), LFJL staff conducted a joint mission to meet with numerous HRC special procedures thematic mandates, including contemporary forms of slavery and trafficking in persons, and other relevant UN offices in Geneva. The meetings were held to shed light on the situation in Libya and urge the mandate holders to advise and publicly report on the human rights situation of migrants and refugees – particularly important given the inadequate HRC resolution outlined above.

LFJL staff also attended a one-day workshop, organised with a number of organisations working on migration and refugee protection in Libya, to take stock of the present-day challenges and conditions including assessing the needs of Libyan civil society organisations working on the ground, and ways to assure their protection and the respect of their fundamental human rights. The workshop allowed organisations to exchange knowledge and information and to form a coalition that aims to develop common legal and advocacy strategies.

LFJL has also been following the recent hearings within Dutch courts for two Eritrean men, accused of committing crimes against migrants and refugees in Libya. The two suspects were alleged to have operated out of the notorious trafficking hub of Bani Walid, in north east Libya. The case focuses on Eritrean families in the Netherlands who were forced to pay traffickers for the release of family members in Libya. The Dutch Public Prosecution’s Office is considering charging the suspects on participation in a criminal organisation engaged in human smuggling, hostage-taking, extortion and violence including sexual violence under Dutch common law. Our legal team is exploring how advocating to expand the charges could further establish justice for the victims and contribute to non-recurrence, with a specific focus on the framing of the crimes as crimes against humanity, as opposed to smuggling.


What's next?

LFJL will continue to advocate for the full respect of migrant and refugee rights by Libyan and European authorities. With the release of the FFM report and the failure of the HRC to establish a follow-up mechanism, it is more essential than ever to continue to call on the international community to act and to seek accountability for all perpetrators of gross human rights violations and crimes under international law.


Thank you for your continued and generous support. To receive regular updates about the work we do across all of our programmes, you can subscribe to our mailing list.


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Demanding Action from the ICC

One year on from LFJL's joint communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC), demanding that an official investigation be opened into the crimes committed against migrants and refugees in Libya that may amount to crimes against humanity, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has yet to take decisive action.

In light of this, on November 21st, in a joint letter with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), LFJL addressed Prosecutor Karim Khan about the urgency of the situation, demanding that priority to a formal investigation be given. Despite commending the OTP's contribution to supporting the , particularly in the extradition of two key Eritrean suspects of human trafficking and human smuggling crimes in Libya to Italy and the Netherlands, LFJL emphasised that continuing to frame crimes against migrants and refugees exclusively as smuggling and trafficking instead of crimes against humanity, and thereby prioritising the jurisdiction of national authorities and regional organisations over its own, will not be enough to put an end to the ongoing cycle of impunity for Rome Statute crimes committed in the country. In fact, over the past year and in the absence of any effective accountability efforts, the situation of migrants has worsened, with of migrants and refugees having been reported dead or missing in Libya and at sea, while thousands more continue to fall victim to human trafficking and enslavement, with the most common forms of exploitation being abduction for extortion, forced labour and sexual exploitation.

LFJL thus urged the OTP once again to assess without delay the individual criminal responsibility of high-level perpetrators so as to facilitate criminal accountability, while also laying the groundwork to prevent the future commission of such crimes by deterring criminal networks and systems from emerging or continuing their operations. Moreover, in delivering recommendations to the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute (ASP) ahead of and during its twenty-first session in the Hague, LFJL reiterated this point, believing that the Court is best placed to capture the nature and gravity of the most serious crimes, and to complement domestic investigations that might be more limited in the types of crimes they prosecute.

Promoting and building an Advocacy Network

In September and October 2022, LFJL also had the opportunity to network with new partners, which are also working in the field of migration and refugee advocacy not just in Libya but across Europe.

After carrying out in-depth research to better understand UK asylum policy, including the Rwanda-UK deal, and how this impacts migrants and refugees reaching the UK who transited through Libya and who were more often than not victims of human trafficking, LFJL had the opportunity to hold bilateral meetings with human rights organisations at the frontlines of challenging Home Office's Rwanda policy in the High Court. Avenues for future collaboration were explored, and we hope to follow up on new ideas in the New Year. Moreover, LFJL was also able establish a first contact point in Malta, with the aim of developing joint advocacy projects in the future that address the rights of migrants and refugees in Europe, and the human rights shortcomings European politicians and policymakers have continued to display in this regard.

Moreover, in an op-ed published for International Migrants Day on December 18, LFJL condemns Europe's approach in cherry-picking human rights principles and evading its legal obligations and humanitarian responsibility to offer protection to migrants seeking safety, dignity and livelihood at its borders. This is particularly the case in the Central Mediterranean, where Europe’s approach to migration has centred around border externalisation and pushbacks of migrants to Libya, as well as the obstruction and criminalisation of NGOs attempting to fill the humanitarian gaps. The op-ed also highlights the importance of transnational civil society networks in challenging governmental and intergovernmental agendas through formal accountability channels, in turning the dial on the narrative around migration, and in creating and mobilising strong and sustainable movements around migration issues.

What’s next?

LFJL hopes to pursue new partnerships across Europe so as to continue to expand and sustain its migration advocacy network, and thus provide stronger and more coordinated advocacy responses. Moreover, in light of new evidence brought forward at the end of this year, including that by Human Rights Watch and the ECCHR, LFJL hopes to explore new avenues to seek accountability for harmful policies, and justice for victims. Stay tuned and check the project homepage for the latest updates and to find out how you can support this work.

Thank you for your continued and generous support. To receive regular updates about the work we do across all of our programmes, you can subscribe to our mailing list.

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Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) has continued to monitor, raise awareness and conduct advocacy around the situation of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya.


In June 2022, the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (FFM) reported that persistent impunity is to blame for ongoing crimes committed against refugees and migrants in Libya. The FFM also attributed the involvement of new actors, for example the Stability Support Authority (SSA) militia, in the commoditisation, exploitation and abuse of refugees and migrants to the climate of total impunity. The FFM will deliver its final report in March 2023 which is expected to present further conclusive findings and recommendations in relation to the crimes and abuses committed against refugees and migrants in Libya.

In recent months, there has been increased incidence of sea and land tragedies involving refugees and migrants, including one shipwreck in June that left at least 30 people missing and feared dead. In the same month, the Libyan authorities reported finding the bodies of 20 refugees and migrants who died from thirst in the desert close to the border with Chad.

In June and July alone, over 4,000 refugees and migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya according to IOM (the UN’s Organisation for Migration). In August 2022, Human Rights Watch released evidence to support the claim that Frontex, the EU Border agency, has installed a network of aerial surveillance over the Mediterranean Sea which facilitates interceptions and returns to Libya. Meanwhile, MSF recently released a report underling the impossibility of protecting refugees and migrants inside Libya and the inefficacy of existing legal pathways to safety. The report proposes alternative pathways for protection.

As a London-based organisation, LFJL has also been monitoring changes to asylum and migration policies in the UK and the implications of the Nationalities and Borders Act 2022 – including a controversial policy which sets to remove to Rwanda asylum seekers and potential victims of trafficking, including those who may have travelled through Libya, who arrived in the UK via what the UK government has termed “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods.” Rwanda removals have been heavily criticized by lawyers and human rights organisations as being fundamentally at odds with the UN Refuge Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

The situation for refugees and migrants in Libya, and in countries further along the Central Mediterranean Route, remains perilous. LFJL continues to raise awareness of their plight and advocate for policy changes to improve the situation while also exploring legal channels to challenge the current policies and seek justice for victims.

Awareness raising

Highlights of LFJL’s awareness raising initiatives have included Head of Advocacy and Outreach, Marwa Mohamed’s guest appearance on the Asymmetrical Haircuts podcast alongside Sally Hayden, author of My Fourth Time, We Drowned. During the episode, Marwa and Sally unpack detention, monetisation and other abuses committed against refugees and migrants in Libya, and the effect of strict European Union border policies.

On LFJL’s own podcast Libya Matters, Marwa Mohamed and Programmes Officer, Mae Thompson discussed access to truth, justice and accountability for refugees and migrants that have suffered gross human rights violations in Libya with renowned champion for refugees’ rights, Lord Alf Dubs.


On 2 June 2022, Marwa Mohamed represented LFJL on a panel at the European Parliament to discuss the situation of refugees and migrants in detention centres in Libya. The Panel was coordinated by the Socialists and Democrats Group – the second largest political group in the European Parliament – and chaired by MEP and Chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee, Maria Arena. The panel discussion and question and answer session was followed by a screening of “Libya: No Escape from Hell” directed by Sara Creta.

LFJL has also continued its advocacy efforts in relation to the ICC and other international accountability mechanisms, and is also exploring other avenues of accountability, for example, through domestic channels.

What’s next?

LFJL is currently exploring ways in which we can offer support and protection to refugees, asylum seekers and victims of trafficking who may have been subjected to human rights violations in Libya during their journeys and who are facing further challenges following their arrival in the UK, particularly in light of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and its implications. Stay tuned and check the project homepage for the latest updates and to find out how you can support this work.

Thank you for your continued and generous support. To receive regular updates about the work we do across all of our programmes, you can subscribe to our mailing list.


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Since the submission of our joint Article 15 Communication (the Communication) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in November 2021, and the publication of the accompanying public report on the crimes committed against refugees and migrants in Libya that may amount to crimes against humanity, our main focus has been conducting related advocacy and awareness raising activities in close coordination with our partner organisations ECCHR and FIDH.

Since our last update, an episode of the Civil Fleet Podcast featuring Senior Programmes Officer Elise Flecher, was released. She discusses, along with a colleague from ECCHR, the many reasons behind the submission to the ICC.

In December 2021, LFJL also contributed to a side event at the Assembly of State Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute of the ICC. Marwa Mohamed, Head of Advocacy and Outreach at LFJL, sat on the panel at the event which drew attention to the widespread and systematic criminal conduct against refugees and migrants and highlighted why the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate.

LFJL has also been in bilateral communication with the Office of the Prosecutor and continues to call for and support the opening of an investigation by the ICC into the crimes committed against refugees and migrants in Libya and at sea. In his latest report to the United Nations (UN) Security Council, Prosecutor of the ICC Karim Khan, stated that the Communication and supplementary consultation with the filing organisations had been beneficial to his Office’s line of inquiry in regards to crimes against migrants.

The Communication and accompanying report also helped to aid a question-and-answer session in Dutch Parliament forcing a self-examination into Dutch policies that could be contributing to such crimes. Dutch Parliament has yet to publish the answers to the inquiries presented.

We have also been in regular communication with the UN Fact-Finding Mission, whose latest report in March 2022 continues to highlight the ongoing crimes committed against refugees and migrants in Libya. Our advocacy has also included bilateral meetings with several other relevant stakeholders, including the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

A vital opportunity for leaders to address the desperate situation of refugees and migrants in Libya, the European Union (EU) – African Union (AU) summit in February was at the centre of campaign by LFJL for the reform of harmful European policies on migration flows from Libya. As part of the campaign, LFJL published an article on Europe’s potential complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes and provided recommendations for the implementation of a human rights-based response.

In March 2022, LFJL staff conducted a joint advocacy mission to Brussels alongside colleagues from ECCHR and FIDH to highlight concerns and continue conversations at the EU level around problematic policies.

Overall, pushbacks in the Central Mediterranean are continuing at an alarming rate. According to IOM data, almost 4,500 vulnerable people have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya so far this year, and 550 are known to be dead or missing.

However, there have been some positive developments. In March, the German government announced it will no longer provide training to Libya’s coast guard because of concerns about their treatment of migrants. In another small step towards accountability, the Director of the EU border agency, Frontex, resigned in April amid mounting evidence of involvement by the agency in illegal pushbacks of refugees and migrants to Libya. The resignation signals the increasing lack of tolerance for European pushback practices and may herald real accountability for international law violations by the EU as well as human rights-positive change to EU policy and practice.

LFJL continues to call for the ending of interception at sea and return to Libya and encourages the EU and its member states to suspend agreements and cooperation with the Libyan authorities around migration until they provide sufficient guarantees to ensure that the human rights of refugees and migrants are protected.

What’s next?

Protecting the rights, lives and safety of refugees and migrants remains a priority for LFJL. We will continue our work to support survivors who have travelled through Libya, to advocate for the full respect of migrant and refugee rights by Libyan and European authorities, to call for investigations into the crimes committed against them, and to improve their access to justice and accountability.

Thank you for your continued and generous support. To receive regular updates about the work we do across all of our programmes, you can subscribe to our newsletter.

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Organization Information

Lawyers for Justice in Libya

Location: London - United Kingdom
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @libyanjustice
Project Leader:
Mae Thompson
London , United Kingdom
$15,550 raised of $20,000 goal
329 donations
$4,450 to go
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