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Routes to Justice for Migrants in Libya

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

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! 


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!

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!

Despite the limited financial resources available and the extreme caution needed to safeguard the safety of victims, #RoutesToJustice is moving forward! Our work, aimed at finding victims willing to come forward with their stories, has continued over the past few months: we have been able to secure more evidence and are now preparing for the cases. It’s a time-consuming activity, but documentation is a necessary step to litigation.  

In January, we conducted a workshop on monitoring human rights violations in Tunis, in which we trained 19 participants from across Libya on best practices of documentation and witness interviewing, with a strong focus on victim-centred approach. The workshop’s participants are now working on monitoring such violations, in particular those perpetrated against migrants in Libya, and will produce regular reports providing updates on the situation on the ground, which will eventually feed our litigation work as part of #RoutesToJustice. Relevant parts of these reports will also be shared with you as part of our future updates. 

Likewise, we have also recently started working on a project on enforced disappearances in Libya, which will complement the #RoutesToJustice project by addressing the disappearances of migrants in Libya.   

In addition, we substantially progressed with our research project on modern slavery and forced labour. Together with SOAS Human Rights Law Clinic’s postgraduate students, we produced a report on the trafficking offences suspected to be taking place in Europe at the expense of migrants who have crossed through Libya. We are now translating the findings into an advocacy policy paper to serve as a basis when highlighting the need for guarantees of migrants’ human rights with relevant decision makers. Furthermore, the report provided us with a better understanding of the best way to bring cases on behalf of migrants against individuals and businesses practising forced labour and exploitation of migrant workers across Europe. 

However, fighting for the human rights of migrants -in general and in Libya in particular- cannot be limited to litigation. An important part of the work is contributing to changing the idea that human rights and justice have no place in a conflict-torn country. This certainly makes the scope of our project wider and more complicated, but it also gives us an opportunity to have a stronger impact and achieve long-lasting change. For this reason, during our inaugural Annual Justice Lectureorganised in partnership with SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law, we tried to initiate an open and varied dialogue on justice and human rights in Libya. The Lecture was held by Pablo de Greiff, one of the world’s leading experts on transitional justice and the first UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence, who explored what justice means in a context like Libya and how notions of transitional justice are useful in the non-typical scenarios we face today. 


What’s next? 

We are currently preparing our mission to Geneva, where we will attend the 40th ordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council to discuss the human rights of migrants in Libya and the Mediterranean with many relevant stakeholders, including governments, UN representatives (OHCHR, Special Procedures, UNSMIL) and NGOs 

Also, do you remember George the Poet and his incredible podcast exploring the modern slave trade in Libya? That was only the beginning of our collaboration: we are exploring new exciting opportunities, and can’t wait to share updates with you!   

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 here to stay tuned and follow all of our work across our programmes. Many thanks again from all the LFJL team for supporting our work! 


Thanks to your generosity, we were able to continue building momentum and support for #RoutesToJustice. Over the past three months, the project team has continued to monitor the situation of migrants in Libya and undertake projects to raise awareness and improve their situation. Unfortunately, during this time period our capacity to take action was restricted due to limited funds.

However, we were incredibly lucky that George the Poet, a social commentator and recording artist specialising in musical poetry, dedicated an entire podcast episode on 20 September 2018 to the issue of slavery in Libya and highlighted LFJL’s work in this area. The show resulted in the podcast 'The Journey - Part II', which explores the modern slave trade in Libya, calls for grassroots action, and features Elham Saudi, LFJL's Director.

We were also fortunate to have Sirage Saudi and Nas Marref brave the parks of London and run the Royal Parks Half Marathon in pouring rain to raise much needed funds for #RoutestoJustice. We cannot thank them and their supporters enough for this kind act and generosity of time, spirit, and energy!

LFJL also continued to work on its Human Rights Archive project, which aims to create a digital archive of evidence related to human rights violations in Libya. LFJL held a workshop in November in Tunis with its network of on the ground partners to partner with them on archiving and documenting human rights violations in Libya, including in relation to human rights abuses against migrants.  

On an organisational level, LFJL welcomed a new Operations Manager and Programmes Assistant. We also launched our new Research Fellows Programme, which will be an integral part of its Research and Capacity Building Programme. The Research Fellows are senior researchers with expertise on a diverse range of subjects including international criminal justice, constitutional law and gender equality,with whom LFJL will engage to produce distinct pieces of research on a regular basis. Get to know more about our Research Fellows here.

During this time, LFJL has continued to monitor the political situation of Libya on a local and international level.  LFJL staff kept abreast of numerous new stories and reports that emerged over the months on the continuing plight of migrants in Libya and were particularly affected  by the news story of asylum seekers and migrants refusing to get off the boat to be sent back to camps in Libya. We are now looking into how to contact these people and what we can do to support them. We hope with your continued support that stories like this one will become few and far between.


What’s next?

LFJL is launching a joint research project with postgraduate students in the Human Rights Law Clinic at SOAS, University of London. The students will produce a report on slavery, forced labour, and trafficking offences suspected to be taking place in Europe involving migrants who have crossed through Libya. LFJL will investigate how to use the work to bring cases on behalf of migrants against individuals and businesses implicated in this action across Europe.

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 here to stay tuned 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
$9,870 raised of $20,000 goal
131 donations
$10,130 to go
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