Recent Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Libya

A report commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 1st established that there is evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed in Libya. The Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya has focused on investigating how the actions of state and non-state actors are contributing to the prolific violence being committed against displaced people and prison detainees since 2016.

The Fact-Finding Mission is chaired by Mohamed Aujjar of Morocco. In conducting the investigation, more than 150 individuals were interviewed, including ex-detainees from some of Libya’s most notorious prisons. Aujjar stated that the investigations of the mission have “…established that all parties to the conflicts, including third States, foreign fighters and mercenaries, have violated international humanitarian law…some have also committed war crimes.”

The human rights abuses of displaced people in Libya were given particular attention. Due to Libya’s proximate location to the shores of Europe, it has become a key point of transit for individuals who have been forcibly displaced from Africa and the Middle East. Large numbers of displaced individuals reach Libya intending to cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek asylum in Europe. However, many do not get the chance to make this attempt. Libya has criminalized irregular entry into and exit from its territory. As a result, large numbers of asylum seekers end up detained in Libyan prisons. The conditions these groups are subjected to expose them to abuse and exploitation at the hands of human traffickers.

The report emphasizes the widespread nature of this abuse. Chaloka Beyani, another participant of the Fact-Finding Mission, stated that “Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees are subjected to a litany of abuses at sea, in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers.” The investigations suggested that this kind of violence is undertaken “..on a widespread scale by State and non-State actors, with a high level of organization and with the encouragement of the state – all of which is suggestive of crimes against humanity.”

Since the fall of Qadhafi in 2011, Libya has descended into anarchy and lawlessness. This laid the foundation for extended conflict, with the fragmentation of the formal state structure giving rise to armed groups competing for control of the territory. As a result, the rule of law in Libya has been severely compromised. Over the last decade, state and non-state actors from Libya and overseas have allegedly taken advantage of Libya’s instability. In the absence of effective institutions, these groups have been free to commit violations of both international human rights law and international humanitarian law against vulnerable populations. As highlighted by the report, those who have been most impacted by these abuses include women and children.

Given the available evidence, the following conclusion can be drawn: the European Union is complicit in the suffering of displaced people in Libyan detention centres. The EU-funded Libyan coastguard intercepts asylum seekers at sea and sends them back to Libya to prevent their arrival at European shores. The report cited that since 2016, approximately 87,000 displaced people have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard. This number includes around 7,000 individuals who are now detained in prisons operated by Libya’s Department for Combatting Illegal Migration. Upon return to Libya, detainees face grave mistreatment.

The dire situation in Libya illustrates a pressing need for accountability. Those involved in these atrocities need to be held responsible: an initiative which the wider international community should lend its support towards. Unless decisive action is taken, the situation in Libya will only continue to deteriorate. The international community should organize a cohesive response to bolster Libya’s ability to be a more effective arbiter of international humanitarian law. Furthermore, to ensure that the fundamental right to seek asylum is upheld, efforts should further be taken to establish safe and legal routes for displaced people.



Lauryn Sinclair