ICC Prosecutor Joins International Team Supporting Investigations Into Crimes Against Migrants in Libya

ICC Prosecutor Joins International Team Supporting Investigations Into Crimes Against Migrants in Libya
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Ryan Haigh

International Justice and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

On 7 September 2022, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan confirmed that his office has formally joined an international team to assist in investigations of crimes against migrants and refugees in Libya. [1]  Pre-existing members include Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, and Europol. Preceding events foreshadowed the Prosecutor’s first official action on this issue. Earlier this year, several NGOs, including Adala for All, StraLi, and UpRights filed an Article 15 communication with the International Criminal Court seeking an investigation into the treatment of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers in Libya. On 28 April 2022, while briefing the UN Security Council, Karim Khan reported that the crimes alleged by the NGOs against the irregular migrant population might indeed amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.  Last week Khan’s office reiterated these assertions but declined to make conclusive statements concerning criminality. 

The refugee crisis in Libya is a long-standing issue. Libya has introduced “pushback policies” which preclude migrants from gaining access to legal procedures and appropriate relief for harms they may have suffered.  The policies themselves are aimed at deterring additional migrants from entering the country. In Libya, militias are alleged to have been targeting irregular migrants, subjecting them to torture, kidnappings, rape, servitude, and killings. The decade-long conflict in the country has exacerbated this situation.  Militias have allegedly been able to engage in atrocities against the irregular migrant population with impunity. Moreover, the use of secret prisons and the failure to provide an accurate accounting of those detained create further risks.  The UN mission to Libya estimates that approximately 12,000 individuals are detained in 27 prisons across Libya, where they are subjected to inhumane conditions.

Traditionally, situations involving the mistreatment of migrants and refugees seeking relief in Europe via North Africa have been addressed as human rights abuses before the European Court of Human Rights.  The Office’s report indicates that countries such as the Netherlands and Italy are considering national proceedings against suspects. Domestic and international forums may soon hold individuals criminally accountable for crimes committed in this context. 

[1] Office of the Prosecutor, ‘Statement of the ICC Prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan QC: Office of the Prosecutor Joins National Authorities in Joint Team on Crimes Against Migrants in Libya’ (Office of the Prosecutor, 7 September 2022)  <https://www.icc-cpi.int/news/statement-icc-prosecutor-karim-aa-khan-qc-office-prosecutor-joins-national-authorities-joint-0> accessed 12 September 2022.