The European Union has been “aiding and abetting” the detention, murder, torture, rape and enslavement of migrants trying to reach the continent from Libya, a UN investigator has found.
The conclusion came from a fact-finding mission established by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which said that crimes against humanity had been committed against Libyans and migrants in the North-African country.
The EU funds an 800 million euros project to stop illegal migration to Europe from North Africa, which gives money, equipment and training to Libyan armed groups to intercept and detain migrants.
The fact-finding mission found “reasonable grounds” to conclude that crimes against humanity were committed against Libyans and migrants, including “widespread” arbitrary detention, murder, torture, rape, enslavement, slavery, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance since 2016. It also found that migrants had been subjected to sexual slavery.
“We’re not saying that the EU and its member states have committed these crimes. The point is that the support given has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes,” Chaloka Beyani told a press conference.
EU support to the Libyan coastguard “led to violation of certain human rights” including non-refoulement or pushbacks of migrants to unsafe areas, Mr Beyani said, while support to authorities running detention centres “facilitated” human rights abuses.
The report published on Monday was the third issued by the fact-finding mission and the most strongly worded.
“There is an urgent need for accountability to end this pervasive impunity,” said Mohamed Auajjar, the head of the mission. “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.”
Since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been wracked by fighting and ruled by rival administrations with the Government of National accord in the capital Tripoli and the self-styled Libyan National Army controlling the east.
The lawless country has emerged as a primary transit route for African migrants hoping to find a better life in Europe, though many are systematically tortured and forced into sexual slavery – a crime against humanity – the mission found.
The LNA and the GNA did not cooperate with requests to visit southern Libya, where abuses against migrants are thought to be most severe, citing security concerns.
This “clearly shows that there is something that those that control the south did not want the Libya fact-finding mission to find out,” said Mr Beyani.
The mission said its mandate was expiring as the human rights situation in Libya was deteriorating and the power of the state declining in the face of non-state actors.
“The practices and patterns of gross violations continue unabated, and there is little evidence that meaningful steps are being taken to reverse this troubling trajectory and bring recourse to victims,” the mission said.
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said the EU does not fund the Libyan coast guard “nor any other entity in Libya,” adding that the EU assistance was meant to “improve their performance”.
“We are providing assistance to help them improve their performance when it comes to search and rescue, be it with vessels, be it with equipment, or previously training with a focus exactly on human rights,” he said.
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