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Routes to Justice for Migrants in Libya

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

#RoutesToJustice: Escalating violence and COVID-19 disproportionately affect the migrants and refugees in Libya 

In recent months, Libya has seen a dramatic upsurge in violence coupled with the new challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting migrants and refugees in Libya in a particularly vulnerable situationRecent estimates suggest there are 654,000 migrants and refugees living in Libya. Due to increased violence and COVID-19 concerns, there has been an increase in the number of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean. As of 1 May, 3,078 refugees and migrants have been registered as intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and disembarked in Libya, most of whom have been arbitrarily detained and transferred to detention centres.  

Despite the current global pandemic, LFJL continues to engage in advocacy and accountability projects remotely to promote the well-being and protection of migrants and refugees in Libya.  

On 1 April, the European Union launched Operation IRINI, which prioritizes the enforcement of the UN arms embargo on Libya. LFJL's Head of Advocacy and Outreach Marwa Mohameddiscussed the launch of this new operation in her op-ed Business as Usual for the EU Causes the Suffering of Migrants and Refugees in Libya". Mohamed wrote, EU policy on Libya including bilateral agreements such as the Memorandum oUnderstanding with Italy has proven problematic from its conception, and with the establishment of Operation IRINI the complete disregard of the situation in Libya and consequences of further engagement with the Libyan Coast Guard continues to expand”.  

In late April, LFJL made a joint statement with 12 other human rights organizations to call for EU institutions to stop any actions trapping migrants and refugees in LibyaThe call follows the submission, by a consortium of organisations including the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), ASGI,and ARCI, ofacomplaint to theEuropean Court of Auditors(ECA), requestingan investigation into the EU’s cooperation with Libya, including the spending of funds. The investigation aims at determiningwhether the EU has breached its own financial regulations, as well as its human rights obligations, in its support for Libyan border management. The organisations' call arguesthat the EU also failed to ensure that its funds were not used for activities potentially violating human rights. 

This month, we launched a series of opinion pieces in partnership with openDemocracy, Libya: between conflict and pandemic, which examines Libya’s response to the pandemic amidst conflict, from a human rights perspective. As part of this initiative, LFJL's Head of Advocacy and Outreach Marwa Mohamed published a piece entitled “Locked up with no escape: refugees and migrants in Libya face bombs, virus and everything in between”. The article examines the bleak situation faced by refugees and migrants in Libya. Mohamed discusses the arbitrary detention of refugees in state-run detention centres, the lack of legal framework to organize the migration and refugee situation, the lack of access to healthcare, and the serious human rights violations to which migrants and refugees are exposed. 


What’s next? 

On 21 May at 13:00 BST, LFJL will be hosting a live Zoom webinar which will explore how the ongoing conflict and pandemic impact human rights in Libya, including for refugees and migrants. The event will be available here 

We are currently working on the second season of Libya Matters, a podcast which challenges the mainstream international coverage of Libya andhighlightingunder-reported parts of the Libyan story, including raising awareness about the experiences of refugees and migrants in Libya.  Keep an eye out in July for the launch of our newest episode! 

We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of the project throughGlobalGiving, however please don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing listto stay up to date with all of our work across ourprogrammes. Many thanks again from all the LFJL team for supporting our work! 

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LFJL is committed to providing routes to justice for migrants and asylum-seekers who have experienced abuses and human rights violations in Libya. Over the past few months, LFJL has been actively involved in advocacy and outreach and has been vocal both nationally and internationally in its pursuit for justice for migrants in Libya. 

LFJL’s Head of Advocacy and Outreach, Marwa Mohamed, has attended several events on migration over the past few months. On 18 November 2019, Mohamed was in Rome representing LFJL on a panel discussion on migration, organised by SaferWorld and Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI). At the event, Mohamed discussed the problematic nature of the Libyan Coast Guard and its training, how the unconditional cooperation with Libyan authorities is harmful and how irresponsible EU policies are exacerbating the issue.  

On 20 November 2019, Mohamed attended a roundtable discussion at the European Parliament in Brussels, organised by the International Commission of Jurists. In that occasion, she discussed the arbitrary detention of thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. She also emphasised the systemic human rights violations and abuses being committed against them, and the absence of options for protection, repatriation and return, including as a result of EU states’ policies.  

We have also been providing legal advice and engaging with diverse stakeholders including law firms and human rights organisations to collaborate on bringing cases of human rights violations in Libya before domestic jurisdictions. This has allowed us to further lay the groundwork for strategic litigation in relation to cases of migrants who have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment in Libya. 

What's next?

To follow up from our last UPR report, LFJL is now entering a new phase of advocacy before the next UPR takes place in May, during which - based on the reports we submitted in October – we will be publishing our recommendations on the rights of migrants to be supported by UN member states.  

The activities described above are contributing to the build-up of our project which is taking shape and that we hope will materialise later this year. We are continuing to find ways to crowd-source in order to build this project.  

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Our commitment to provide routes to justice to migrants and asylum-seekers who experienced abuses and human rights violations in Libya has continued as strong as ever over the last few months. We were actively involved in advocacy and awareness-raising efforts, and also engaged consistently with our Libyan partners to keep pursuing justice for migrants in Libya through national regional and international channels.   


In October, we submitted a report as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a United Nations mechanism aiming at assessing the human rights situation within countries. Within this mechanism, civil society organisations are invited to provide their input and recommendations to improve the record of human rights in the countries under review 

Following up on LFJL’s participation in Italy’s UPR in May to highlight the Italian migration policies endangering the human rights of migrants in Libya, LFJL and its partners from Libyan civil society submitted a report as part of Libya’s upcoming UPR in May 2020.  This specific submission aimed at assessing the human rights situation in Libya and focused specifically on migration and the mistreatment of migrants by Libyan authorities and armed groups. In our submission, we noted how Libya, rather than honouring the commitments made to protect the rights of migrants and refugees, has instead focused on implementing cooperation agreements with Italy. These agreements, however, have worsened the situation and failed to guarantee the human rights of migrants and refugees being arbitrarily detained, tortured and exploited in Libya. Finally, we gave accounts of grave human rights violations by the Libyan Coast Guard at the expense of migrants at sea and in the transfer to detention centres 

In view of conducting casework with our partners and bringing cases before regional and international human rights jurisdictions, we trained 12 Libyan lawyers and members of Libyan civil society on strategic litigation. The workshop, held earlier this month in Tunis, aimed to train the participants on litigating human rights violations taking place in Libybefore human rights mechanisms and on thechallenges and opportunitiesof strategic litigation in reference to enforced disappearance and torture cases.This workshop was part of our effort to engage with and support Libyan civil society organisations to pursue justice internationally, including in relation to violations against migrants and asylum-seekers. 

We also continued to work on the enforced disappearances projectLFJL and two of our partners from Libyan civil society attended the 65th ordinary session of the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on 18-23 October 2019 in Banjul, The Gambia. The aim of the mission to the ACHPR was to ensure that the perspectives of Libyan civil society were represented at this forum and that human rights concerns in Libya are addressed at the regional level. We met with some key Commissioners to discuss the migration context in Libya and in particular the human rights situation of migrants and internally displaced persons.  


Additionally, one of LFJL’s partners who has been working on human rights and the situation of internally displaced persons from Tawergha, Libya since 2011, took part in a panel on enforced disappearances in Africa organised by REDRESS and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa. The panel, which took place as part of the main session of the ACHPR on 22 October, aimed to provide an understanding of the issue in the African continent and to identify solutions and measures to prevent this practice, including through the adoption of guidelines by the ACHPR. The intervention of LFJL’s partner, who has been subjected to enforced disappearances himself, provided an insight into the practice of enforced disappearances in Libya and the perspectives of victims as well as the challenges they face to obtain truth and justice. 


Finally, we raised awareness on the issue of migration through our communications channels. At the beginning of October, we released the final episode of Season 1 of our podcast Libya Matters. We launched Libya Matters in July with the aim of challenging the mainstream international coverage of Libya and highlighting under-reported parts of the Libyan story. In casual conversations intended to bring a candid insight, hosts and guest experts explore issues of justice, human rights, the rule of law and much more.  

Given the importance of the issue, we dedicated an episode to raising awareness on migration and detention in Libya. The episode, Outsourcing the Mediterranean, features Amnesty International’s researcher Matteo de Bellis. This episode delved into the criminalisation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea by European governments, as well as the inhumane arbitrary detention of migrants in Libya. We also challenged popular narratives regarding the migrant “crisis”, the relation between migration and terrorism, and more. 

This episode critically and empathetically discussed the increasingly aggressive steps aimed at limiting migrants’ access to Europewith the hope of highlighting the need for civil society organisations and human rights activists to keep watch on this subject. This episode and the rest of season 1 of Libya Matters can be found on iTunesSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and all other major platforms. 


What’s next? 

Based on the UPR reports that we submitted as part of Libya’s UPR we will be conducting some advocacy with UN member states to support our recommendations to Libya in order to improve the rights of migrants. Jointly with a coalition of NGOs we will also continue to push for more accountability in Libya and the establishment of an accountability mechanism to monitor and address human rights violations and hold those responsible to account. 

We are also working on cases to be submitted to human rights mechanisms in the coming months. Keep checking our work here for more exciting updates! We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of the project through GlobalGiving, however please don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list to remain updated and follow all of our work across our programmes. Many thanks again, from all the LFJL team, for supporting our work! 


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It has been a busy few months at LFJL! We are continuing our efforts to defend the most fundamental human rights of migrants attempting to reach Europe and have been conducting a lot of advocacy in order to highlight the impact that European policies have had on migrants in Libya.

In May 2019, we engaged with the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) of the UK Parliament, which had launched an inquiry entitled “Finding a diplomatic route: European responses to irregular migration”. In response to the FAC’s call for public participation, our written submission highlighted that the focus of the inquiry is flawed in that it seeks only to find ways to reduce flows of migration rather than to protect the human rights of migrants. We then highlighted our concern that British aid money is enabling the Libyan authorities to enact policies that violate international human rights law. These policies include the operation of migrant detention centres and the Libyan Coastguard’s practice of intercepting migrant vessels and forcibly returning them to Libya.

We also submitted a report to the Third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Italy, which will take place in November 2019. The UPR is a United Nations (UN) mechanism through which states assess the human rights records of every UN member state every four to five years. To do so, they consult the state itself, UN agencies and civil society to have a wide overview of the situation in the countries concerned. In our submission, we outlined our concern at the various measures the Italian government has taken in recent years to prevent migrants from traveling to Europe, above all the Memorandum of Understanding between the Italian and Libyan governments concluded in February 2017. Under this agreement Libya took on responsibility for intercepting migrant vessels at sea and returning them to Libya, where they are unsafe and are likely to suffer serious human rights violations including torture.

We have also been busy with our weekly podcast series that we launched in July. After two exciting episodes, for our third episode, we held a live event at the Conduit in London on 18 June. The event featured a discussion on the situation in Libya between LFJL’s Director, Elham Saudi, and two guest speakers: the award-winning Libyan-American writer Hisham Matar, whose memoir The Return won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and the British activist and human rights expert Ian Martin, who served as head of the United Nations Special Mission in Libya between 2015 and 2018. The event also featured a performance from George the Poet, a London-born poet of Ugandan heritage whose podcast Have you heard George’s podcast won the 2019 British Podcast of the Year award. This was George’s second collaboration with us, following his podcast 'The Journey - Part II’, which explores the modern slave trade in Libya.


What’s next?

Going forward, we will continue to promote and defend migrants’ rights through our various projects. We are currently working on engaging in Libya’s UPR, which is scheduled to take place in May 2020. We intend to make a series of recommendations to the Libyan authorities to reduce human rights violations, particularly violations of the rights of migrants. We are also planning to travel to Geneva and Tunis to meet with other stakeholders to discuss this issue.

LFJL has undertaken a new project on enforced disappearances in Libya, which also affects migrants travelling through Libya. Through this project, we plan to file cases on this issue before relevant Libyan and international authorities and are conducting research to identify some cases and engage with victims.

We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of the project through GlobalGiving, however please don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list to remain updated and follow all of our work across our programmes. Many thanks again from all the LFJL team for supporting our work!

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As you might know, violence has been escalating in Libya since the beginning of April 2019. According to the World Health Organisation, to date, the armed conflict has resulted in about 562 deaths, including 40 civilians, and more than 2800 people wounded. The situation has also become more critical for migrants and asylum seekers in Libya: the battle in the outskirts of Tripoli has put thousands of people confined in detention centres at risk. Many of these centres are located close to conflict areas and armed clashes, putting migrants at further risk. Libyan authorities refuse to release migrants and refugees, despite being unable to ensure their safety and access to essentials including food and water. Transportation of migrants caught in the Libyan crossfires to safer locations has become increasingly difficult due to the deteriorating security situation.

Furthermore, the Libyan Coast Guards continue to stop boats attempting to reach Europe and returns their passengers to detention centres. The current instability has furthered smuggling activities and human trafficking activities, as well as abuses by some in the Libyan Coast Guards. The cycle of captivity and exploitation sadly continues.

While this makes our work even more challenging, the current situation also shows us how vital it is to provide these people with routes to justice. Regardless of the difficulties, we have continued our advocacy efforts, and have once again called for accountabilityto the international community, the UN Security Council, and the ICC.

Our colleagues in Tripoli have bravely been documenting abuses and human rights violations against the civilian population, while also monitoring the situation of migrants in Libya. We have continued our work collecting documents for litigation, and uploaded them to our Human Rights Archive, to secure evidence of ongoing human rights violations in Libya.

LFJL has also engaged with members of the public through events and media. On 21-23 May, LFJL participated in the Ramadan Tent Project’s Open Iftar by holding a bake sale as part of this inclusive project. The bake sale allowed us to raise funds for #RoutesToJustice, while also raising awareness of LFJL’s work and engaging with people interested in helping us make a difference in Libya.

What’s next?

We will continue to raise awareness on the project throughout the summer, starting from the 8th of June, when some of LFJL staff members as well as external supporters will participate in the London Nightrider, a 100km bike ride around London.

We are also planning other awareness and fundraising events in the next few months, so please stay tuned for more information!

We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of the project through GlobalGiving, however please don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list to remain updated and follow all of our work across our programmes. Many thanks again from all the LFJL team for supporting our work!

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Organization Information

Lawyers for Justice in Libya

Location: London - United Kingdom
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @libyanjustice
Project Leader:
Chloe Dennis
London, United Kingdom
$10,939 raised of $20,000 goal
166 donations
$9,061 to go
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