31st May 2023

EU criminal complicity in Libya needs recognition, says expert

  • Libyan patrol boat, in background, seeking to intercept migrants in Malta's search and rescue zone (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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EU and Italian complicity in crimes against humanity in Libya has yet to grip the public debate among EU circles, says the lead author of a new European Parliament study.

"There is still a lack of willingness to recognise the European Union's indirect responsibility for crimes against humanity," said Sergio Carrera, a senior research fellow for the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.

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Speaking to EUobserver on Thursday (25 May), Carrera also said that same unwillingness extends to Italy's direct responsibility for crimes against humanity.

The findings are part of a larger European Parliament study, authored by Carrera and others, and published earlier this week.

Carrera said the EU has known for years that it was impossible to safeguard human rights once people are intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya.

Almost 25,000 were intercepted and returned last year, according to the International Organization for Migration, a UN body. Once returned, many face abject abuse, rape, torture and even enslavement.

In 2017, the EU helped finance Libya's search and rescue zone despite being told by UN agencies that there was no way people's rights could be upheld in the country.

"Despite this knowledge, the commission decided to continue the funding," said Carrera.

This funding entailed over €46m in July 2017, followed by an additional €45m in 2018.

EU and Italian complicity was further entrenched following a February handover of EU-financed patrol boats to the Libyan Coast Guard, he said. Najla Mangoush, Libya's minister of foreign affairs, was also present.

The parliament study cites the handover ceremony as additional evidence of the EU and Italy in "unlawfully aiding and assisting international wrongful acts and crimes against humanity."

The study echo similar views by a UN independent fact-finding mission on Libya in March.

It faulted the European Union for sending support to Libyan forces that they say contributed to crimes against migrants and Libyans.

UN investigator Chaloka Beyani said that EU aid to Libya's migration department and the coastguard "has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes," including crimes against humanity.

The UN investigators had also called for accountability and an end to pervasive impunity.

For its part, the European Commission says its objective is to help to improve the situation of the people stranded in Libya. "Not doing anything is not an answer," said an EU commission spokesperson in March, in response to the UN report.

But Carrera countered that argument.

"It is not a matter of choice for EU policymakers to indirectly facilitate crimes against humanity. There's a choice there, which is not to facilitate," he said.

It is a position also taken up by lawyers at front-LEX, a Dutch-based civil society organisation. In 2019, they filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court against the European Union.

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