Routes to Justice for Migrants in Libya

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

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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Legal submission argues migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya face crimes against humanity

Based on research developed over the course of several years and building on our work to seek accountability and provide justice to victims for the widely documented human rights violations committed against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, LFJL recently filed a Communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in collaboration with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and survivors. The ICC Communication, filed on 23 November 2021, argues that these atrocities, which include enslavement, murder, torture and rape, amount to crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute. The ICC Communication, which details information about 19 alleged Libyan perpetrators ranging from prison guards to well-known militia chiefs, and four hubs for human trafficking and other serious crimes in Libya, urgently demands the ICC to open an investigation into these crimes as a step towards ensuring accountability and justice for the victims, and to deter further crimes.

LFJL, together with ECCHR and FIDH also published a complementary joint public report, NO WAY OUT: Migrants and Refugees Trapped in Libya Face Crimes Against Humanity. The report includes first-hand accounts of survivors detailing the systematic and widespread abuse of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya and offers an analysis of the findings on crimes against humanity as presented in the ICC Communication. To better depict the cruel reality of many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya and the treacherous journeys that they are forced to take in search of safety, the report included an interactive Story Map which tells the story of one of the survivors with whom we worked.

The report further examines the EU policies designed to prevent migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from reaching Europe through Libya. The report considers that European policies and actions that indiscriminately return migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to Libya and trap them there are unlawful and raise the question of European responsibility in the commission of crimes that may amount to crimes against humanity.

Given the findings of our ICC Communication and public report, our latest advocacy efforts, including bilateral meetings with policy makers and other relevant stakeholders, have centred around demanding that the Libyan authorities, the EU and European states comply with their international obligations and ensure migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have access to protection, safety and justice. LFJL has also aimed to raise awareness of the situation and we have been vocal about our concerns and demands through various media outlets, including a guest appearance by Senior Programmes Officer, Elise Flecher on the Civil Fleet Podcast – to be released early this year.

What’s next?

LFJL will continue calling for the removal of harmful Libyan and European policies in order to protect the rights, safety and lives of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers that are or have been in Libya. We will also be prioritising our direct work with survivors, to whom we provide legal and other forms of support and access to justice.

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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Since our last project report, LFJL has continued to investigate and document the human rights abuses committed against refugees and migrants in Libya. Our investigations have focused on a variety of incidents including an explosion at a migrant detention centre in Gharyan on 20 June 2021, reportedly caused by ammunition that was being stored at the centre. We have also been investigating a decision issued by the Municipality of Zuwara in July in which migrants were given 10 days to either settle their status or leave the city. Reportedly, after the decision and the 10-day notice period, between 60 and 80 migrants were arbitrarily arrested in the city.

In June, LFJL made a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Committee with partner REDRESS requesting reparation from Libya for an Eritrean asylum-seeker who was a victim of torture and other grave human rights violations whilst being arbitrarily detained in the country. The submission also recommended that, to ensure such acts do not happen again, Libya should adopt legislation to prevent violations against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and train public officials on their rights.

LFJL also recently made a submission to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (FFM) and encouraged and supported other Libyan civil society organisations in making their own submissions to the UN body, which was established in June 2020 to document violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties involved in Libya since the beginning of 2016. LFJL’s submission included documentation of violations and abuses committed against refugees and migrants, including human trafficking and war crimes. As a key step towards accountability in Libya, LFJL has recently emphasized the critical need for the UN Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the FFM later this month.

On 20 June, LFJL marked World Refugee Day with a social media campaign underlining that international protection should be guaranteed for refugees and migrants fleeing human rights violations in Libya. The campaign drew attention to the spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention and called on European States, most of which adopted the Convention, and the Libyan authorities to immediately stop returns to Libya and provide safe and legal passage to Europe.

In a webinar hosted by Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor on 30 July, Senior Programmes Officer, Elise Flecher discussed impunity in Libya and the role of the EU and the UN, particularly with regards to the arms embargo and the situation of refugees and migrants. She reiterated the importance of implementing proactive search and rescue missions by European states of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and ensuring that cooperation with the Libyan authorities is contingent on human rights guarantees.

What’s next?

Our work to document and seek accountability for human trafficking and other human rights violations committed against refugees and migrants in Libya is set to continue over the coming months. We are currently preparing a legal submission to an international body and will be releasing a public report detailing our findings before the end of the year.

To receive regular updates about our work across all of our programmes, you can subscribe to our newsletter. The whole of the LFJL team wishes to thank you for your support. 


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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
$15,029 raised of $20,000 goal
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