MEPs from the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Human Rights want answers from the European Commission about how and what the European Union is funding crimes against humanity and war crimes.
They now want answers about the EU’s migration-related Libya funding and for activities carried out in Libya in the past years and are calling for an “urgent review” of the EU’s approach towards Libya and the rights of migrants.
MEPs were alarmed after being briefed on the final report of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya which concludes there are grounds to believe a wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by State security forces and armed militia groups.
The UN report provides overwhelming evidence of the deliberate torture and sexual enslavement of migrants in Libya and MEPs stressed that these findings correspond with the dramatic stories of the refugees arriving in Europe.
They fear the EU is simply funding pushbacks to torture in Libya, a practice in which Malta is heavily complicit, and are demanding a review of EU migration-related funding and an explanation of activities carried out in Libya in the past years.
They also say there should be clear-cut conditionality for EU funds going toward operations involving Libya.
The UN mission’s report points out that there is “technical, logistical, and monetary support from the European Union for inter alia the interception and return of migrants to Libya”.
The committees’ MEPs are now demanding more transparency from the Commission stressing that it should be consistently discussed whether EU action, in this particular case, has been guided by the values and principles that are at the core of the EU external policies.
Subcommittee on Human Rights Chair Udo Bullmann remarked, “Based on the findings of the UN report, the EU needs to urgently revise its approach towards Libya. Human dignity and human rights must be at the core of the EU’s external policies. That means also that the nonrefoulement prohibition must be absolutely guaranteed.”
There are “reasonable grounds to believe that the exploitation of migrants entailed violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law and the commission of crimes against humanity,” the report states.
Over 3,000 irregular migrants, including hundreds of women and children, attempting to flee Libya for European shores were intercepted and returned to Libya in the first two months of this year alone, according to figures published by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya.
Malta ‘on notice for years’ about ongoing, widespread attacks
Malta has been implicated in the highly controversial practice through accusations against the government and the Armed Forces of Malta and by hosting sophisticated Frontex drones and aircraft at Malta International Airport.
It was accused just this weekend of coordinating the pushback of another 250 irregular migrants.
The UN report notes how, since 2016, EU member States and EU agencies have implemented a policy of returning migrants and asylum seekers or refugees to Libya by increasing capacity-building and coordination support to Libyan actors, especially the LCG. Libya and third States – such as Italy and Malta – entered memoranda of understanding to this effect.
“In accordance with such memorandums of understanding, the Libyan authorities received support for the interception and return of migrants to Libya if they attempted to arrive at European shores.
“Under the 2020 Malta-Libya memorandum, for example, the Maltese government would finance two coordination centres in Valletta and Tripoli to coordinate activities aimed at suppressing irregular immigration across the Mediterranean.”
This, the UN says, was happening even though “Libyan authorities and third States, for instance Malta and Italy, have been on notice for years about the ongoing widespread and systematic attack on migrants, constituted by violations occurring at sea, in detention centres, along trafficking and smuggling routes, and in trafficking hubs.
“Nonetheless, in accordance with memorandums of understanding between Libya and third States, the Libyan authorities have continued their policy of intercepting and returning migrants to Libya, where their mistreatment resumes, in violation of the principle of nonrefoulement.”
The UN Mission to Libya said it found grounds to believe that the European Union and its member States, directly or indirectly, provided monetary, technical, and logistical support to the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) and Department for Combating Illegal Immigration (DCIM) that was used in the context of interception and detention of migrants.
Evidence collected by the Mission also demonstrated that the EU and/or its member States supplied Libyan authorities with inter alia rubber boats for coastal patrolling and SUV vehicles, buses, ambulances and radio-satellite communication devices.
The UN report makes for horrific reading in several parts.
The UN Mission to Libya says it continues to receive reports of enforced disappearances and prolonged arbitrary detention of both Libyans and non-Libyans in prisons and detention centres across the country.
“The Mission continued to receive consistent reports of men and women detainees in all parts of Libya being subjected to ill-treatment, sexual violence, torture or coercive sexual practices in exchange for water, food or essential items.”
The UNSMIL also observed what it described as a “concerning increase” in the detention of migrant children in violation of the country’s international human rights obligations.
The report describes several pushback/pullback incidents.
One witness told the Mission about an attempt by migrants to sail to Malta, during which they were intercepted by black helicopters that filmed them for about 20 minutes.
A few hours later, a Libyan coast guard ship arrived and started to load the estimated 108 migrants onto it, during which Libyan coast guard personnel threatened to shoot any migrants that attempted to escape. A newborn baby, according to witnesses, fell into the water during this process while the baby was “thrown” from the migrant boat to the ship.
Once at the disembarkation point in Tripoli, they were met with a large contingent of security forces with their faces covered and wearing black uniforms, which a witness said made it seem as though they were terrorists.
After being boarded onto waiting buses, the migrants had further items taken from them such as passports and rings. Migrants were subsequently split up by nationalities and taken to different detention centres.
The report cites one witness saying that a captain approached the migrants as they were being taken back to Libya and offered to release those who could pay US$100 to US$200 – a deal the witness said was not even honoured for those who paid.