The European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) session January 27, 2021.

See full video. Transcription starts at 1:01:22. Automated transcription may contain errors. 

Chair Marie Arena: So let us move on to item 14: Exchange of view on the human rights situation in Libya and fundamental rights of migrants in particular.

On the Mediterranean coast in Libya, the situation of human rights is preoccupying. It’s difficult for all. And you cannot talk about it sufficiently, exhaustively. Asylum seekers, The Global Compact for Migration was adopted in 2018 and considered as historic. A number of commitments were included in terms of human rights. In our subcommittee, we’ve often discussed the situation of migrants in Libya and we adopted the test in the parliament.

But unfortunately we have to accept that there is not sufficient protection. The UN Human Right Office will be presenting today. And the situation is critical for displaced persons. It is also related to freedom of expression and association, the inequity of judiciary situations, which are unacceptable. This council was created in 2020 to look into the violations and abuse, any abuse and preserve any proof. This was published at the end of 2021 and will be presented today.

Civil society and media have been active and committed in that they commit documentation, and we are grateful to them for this civil society, which is important. We will be focusing on these two dimensions with a number of experts.

We have Benjamin Lewis specialist on human rights, migrant unit in the United Nations Human Rights Office, 10 minutes to speak. We have Madam Nagara Director of Human Rights, Transitional Justice, and Rule of Law Service in the United Nations support mission in Libya. And we have Ian Urbina, investigative journalist who led a long-term investigative search group on the situation of migrants in Libya and Rosamaria Gili, Head of Division for Maghreb EEAS. We also have José Antonio Sabadell, Head of EU Delegation to Libya.

So as you can see, we have a number of contributions from members of this subcommittee as well. So I will have to be a little more strict as to speaking time. So starting with Benjamin Lewis, you have 10 minutes, Sir. 

Benjamin Lewis: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Hopefully everyone can hear me. Well, it’s a pleasure to be with you all today and thanks for the opportunity to attend on behalf of the UN Human Rights Office. I’ll be presenting the findings of our most recent thematic report, which you mentioned. It’s called Unsafe and Undignified, and it focuses on the forced expulsion of migrants from Libya.

And this was a report launched in late November, 2021. And it’s part of a wider project by our office to document and report on human rights violations and protection gaps for migrants in Libya. It compliments and builds on the findings of our two previous thematic reports on Libya. The first being a report entitled, Lethal Disregard, which looked at protection gaps in search and rescue of migrants in the central Med (Mediterranean Sea) that was published in May of 2021. A subsequent report called a Pandemic of Exclusion, looked at the impacts of COVID-19 on the human rights of migrants in Libya. And that was published in August, 2021. But turning now to the present report. In Unsafe and Undignified, we have documented an alarming rise in collective expulsions and violations of the principle of non-refoulement that are being carried out by the Libyan Department for Combating Illegal Migration or DCIM. And these illegal expulsions are taking place primarily along Libya’s Southern Eastern and Western land borders, and they appear linked to efforts to strengthen Libya’s external border enforcement.so as to prevent migrants from eventually arriving in Europe. In 2019 and 2020, at least 7,500 migrants were collectively expelled across Libya’s land borders  according to official DCIM statistics. But we have reason to believe that the number is actually significantly higher due to under-reporting by the Libyan authorities. 

Despite the onset of COVID-19 the number of expulsions nearly doubled in 2020 and often took place under so-called emergency procedures that were linked to combating the pandemic. According to one Libyan official DCIM is now and I quote, deporting more people faster than ever before. These expulsions include children, women, and men, many of them asylum seekers and other migrants who are entitled to protection under international law. They include recently freed victims of trafficking from trafficking camps.

For example, in Bani Walid and elsewhere, they include survivors of torture, enforced disappearance and other very serious human rights violations. Our reporting indicates that these expulsions rely in large part upon Libya’s notorious arbitrary detention regime, and there is reason to believe that some of the current investments in refurbishing Libyan detention centers may actually be contributing to the increase in illegal expulsions.

For example, we have expressed concern that a growing number of the expulsions are taking place from a patchwork of refurbished detention centers across the country, under the nominal control of DCIM that are being rebranded as, and I quote, gathering and return centers. In some cases, detention centers that had previously been closed due to past allegations of torture and other serious human rights violations and abuses, are now among those being reopened and rebranded as gathering and return centers. Of particular concern are the large number of explosions taking place from the refurbished gathering and return center in Al-Kufra in the Southeast of the country, which the UN Secretary General has called a de facto deportation center.

We also took note of an increased presence of border brigades or “desert patrol units”. These are operating along Libya’s land borders, particularly in the west of the country, near Algeria and Tunisia. These brigades have been accused of discriminatory racial and ethnic profiling, mostly arresting non Arab looking migrants, Subsaharan African migrants, and others, and then transporting them to these gathering and return centers from which they are subsequently expelled.

Under international human rights law, of course, States have an obligation to respect and ensure the rights of due process and procedural guarantees for all migrants at all times, regardless of their status in forced return procedures. And this includes the right to an individual assessment of the lawfulness of the return measure, as well as of the individual circumstances of each person, which includes importantly, the risk of refoulement. Essential procedural safeguards under international law include access to legal representation, interpreters, and translators, as well as the ability to challenge the legality of the return decision.

However, based on our reporting, migrants in Libya are afforded virtually none of the essential legal safeguards required under international law to respect these prohibitions of collective expulsion and refoulement. According to witnesses interviewed by our office, DCIM officials are instead summarily expelling migrants after verifying only their names and basic country of origin information.

Additionally, the expulsions themselves are being carried out in an extremely dangerous manner. For example, they include long and perilous overland journeys with migrants being forced to travel on overcrowded vehicles across remote stretches of the desert without adequate safety equipment, food, water, or medical care.

One Sudanese migrant deported from Al-Kufra reported, for example, that he and hundreds of other migrants were loaded onto crowded trucks and forced to endure a four day journey in which their vehicles became stuck in the desert and after which they ran out of food and water. Others have reportedly been abandoned in the so-called no man’s land between Libya’s external borders and the borders of its neighboring countries unable to enter their own countries of origin because they are not recognized or because they don’t have the adequate identity documents necessary to enter.

And we’ve also received information that in some cases, migrants that have been collectively expelled across Libya’s land borders, which are marked by the presence of armed groups, militias, traffickers, and criminal gangs had later been abducted, re-trafficked into Libya and some became victims of sexual violence.

There appears to be no meaningful access to justice or effective remedy for any of these unlawful expulsions or for the harms suffered during the expulsion process. Neither our office, and I’m happy to be joined by our chief of office in Libya and my colleague Suki Nagra today, but neither our office nor the UN High Commissioner for refugees has been able to regularly access these individuals prior to their expulsion in order to identify potential protection needs.

And at the heart of these violations is of course the Libyan legal framework, which as you well know, continues to criminalize irregular entry, stay and exit, into the country or out of the country and imposes a mandatory sentence of imprisonment, immigration detention, followed by a re-entry ban for all migrants in irregular situations.

And this includes people seeking asylum or otherwise entitled to protection under international law. The Libyan law does not distinguish between different categories of migrants, whether refugees, migrant workers, victims of trafficking or children, nor does it account for their specific rights under international law. In its report of October, 2021, the Libya Fact Finding Mission – which my colleague Suki we’ll discuss in just a moment – found that migrants in Libya had been subjected to a litany of abuses on a widespread scale by both state and non-state actors with a high level of organization. And with the encouragement of the state, noting that these are patterns suggestive of crimes against humans.

The findings of our Unsafe and Undignified report provide further evidence of this claim and make clear once again, that Libya is not a safe place for migrants. And I should mention our report also raises serious concerns about potential liability for chain refoulement when migrants are returned from Libya, from international waters due to the fact that they are at risk of subsequent collective expulsion and refoulement from Libyan territory itself.

So I’ll leave my presentation there for now. I thank you for your attention. I’m happy to answer any questions and look forward to the further exchange. Thank you very much. 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you, Benjamin. I now give the floor to Suki Nagra. You have 10 minutes. 

Assistant: Ms. Nagra, you can press the speak button, please. 

Suki Nagra: Okay, thank you. Apologies. Good morning. As mentioned, my name is Suki Nagra. I’m the Director of Human Rights, Rule of Law and Transitional Justice Service of UNSMIL. And I also represent the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Libya.

So, first of all, I very much welcome this exchange and opportunity to brief you all on the key challenges related to advancing human rights in Libya. And I’ll just touch on some subjects that have not been covered by my colleague, Ben. As you are aware, the decade long conflict in Libya has brought a habit of despair for thousands of Libyans. And my office, the Rule of Law, Transitional Justice and Human Rights department, which I lead, continues to document killings, enforced disappearances and incidents of sexual violence, including rape, arbitrary arrests and detentions. Including migrants and refugees that Ben highlighted, attacks against activists and human rights defenders and hate crimes and incitement to violence, including against women who participate in public and political life.

But for all, there’s been little to no accountability for these crimes. So despite the ceasefire that’s in place – which is obviously a huge welcome development – and the reduction in civilian casualties that has brought, violations of IHL and human rights suddenly continue unabated by armed groups, by units and integrated into the security forces and operating under the ministries of interior and defense, as well as by armed units of the Libyan national army.

In terms of the current situation, the Libyan led and UN facilitated political process continues, but the political climate remains heavily divided. As you’re aware, Libyans are yearning for democracy to elect their representatives, but the presidential elections that were scheduled for the 24th of December didn’t take place as constituents questioned, on various grounds, the legality of the electoral laws issued by the parliament and then tensions rose of the eligibility of presidential candidates. During the electoral nomination and appeals period, my office documented incidents of electoral violence and attacks based on political affiliation or support for certain political parties and candidates. We also saw threats of violence get to members of the judiciary involved in ruling on the eligibility of candidates. So on the human rights and ruler of law front, um, with violations against Libyans and migrants and refugees continuing, the scale of needs in Libya presents huge and serious challenges.

I can’t stress enough how critical human rights are to sustainable peace and in Libya, every driver of conflict is rooted in human rights abuses, exclusion, and marginalization. So the solution to these drivers also requires a human rights lens. I know it’s a very simple statement, but often it’s overlooked with human rights viewed as a secondary consideration.

So as policymakers and influences, I really urge you to ensure that human rights remain at the front and center of the EU’s strategic engagement on Libya. So in the short time I have, I would just like to highlight a few critical issues which would complement the comprehensive briefing that was provided by my colleague Ben.

So one of the main issues we faced and the challenges in Libya is tackling impunity. And I say that the common thread running through all the human rights challenges in Libya is impunity. Even for the most serious human rights violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, there’s not been a single prosecution for any violation in Libya. 

As Libyans work to reshape their relationship with the state and its security forces, we cannot really speak of prevention if there’s no justice and accountability for the violations perpetrated both by state and non-state actors. Coordinated international support, including through the UN, could therefore help Libyans obtain tangible dividends for peace, including responsive state and security institutions that show greater respect for human rights and support a rights-based reconciliation and transitional justice process.Which I’m sure you’ll agree are the very foundations for sustainable peace going forward.

In terms of accountability, my colleague Ben mentioned the Libya Fact Finding Mission. As of 4th of October, the mission presented its first report and concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that more crimes have been committed in Libya. The FFM also noted that the violations perpetrated against detainees in Libyan prisons, as well as violations perpetrated against migrants in detention and elsewhere may amount to crimes against humanity.

In my office, we will continue to support the Fact Finding Mission in its ongoing investigation of the situation in Libya. But we call on you to support the extension of the FFMs mandate beyond the current period, which is June, 2022. The workload of the FFM is immense and it’s critical that it continues to support the rights of countless victims of gross violations of human rights in Libya.

I’d also like to raise the issue of armed groups. Many of the armed groups in the country operate under the state. They’ve, therefore, been legitimized. They are actors and realms of security institutions, they’re involved in policing.. [Technical problem]

Chair Marie Arena: I think that we will try to refresh Suki’s page. 

Assistant: You can press the button now.

Chair Marie Arena: If it’s not possible to fix the problem now with Suki, we can try to have Ian before and after that we go back to Suki.

Ian Urbina: My name is Ian Urbina and I’ll attempt to discuss three things in my allotted five minutes. First, I just want to explain who I am, and what we do. Second, what investigation did we recently conduct in Libya on these issues. And third, discuss a little bit about what we have heard as reporters – me and my team – and what should and can be done to attempt to rectify some of these problems.

So, my name is Ian Urbina and I’ve been a journalist for 20 years. I was at the New York Times and now I run a nonprofit news organization that produces deep investigations. It’s called The Outlaw Ocean Project and it focuses on human rights and environmental abuses at sea around the world. We spent the last year taking a close look at concerns on the Mediterranean and also specifically in Libya. And those concerns pertained to the return of migrants that were attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Libya, what was happening with them there and what role more broadly did the EU writ large and member states have in those returns. I took a team to Libya to investigate this matter overall and did so really by focusing on the story of one migrant in particular and his murder.He was somewhat symbolic of many migrants that make their way – many refugees that make their way through Libya on their attempted route to Europe.

On the most general level, the goal of our investigation – which initially ran in the New Yorker Magazine and then in about 50 others around the world – was to look at the broader role that the EU has had in facilitating these returns and to try to connect the different silos of thinking that have divided this issue into different subject areas. So metaphorically, the thought here was that if you ponder this issue as a war on migration, to a large degree an EU funded war on migration, there is a Navy metaphorically speaking, operating on the water and that’s the EU funded, created, equipped, Libyan coast guard, whose role and sole purpose is to capture migrants and bring them back to shore.

There is an air force if you will, in this war, which is the armed presence in the sky. And that is a role being played largely by Frontex. In the form of planes and drones that are there largely to survey the Mediterranean and locate and provide intelligence on the location of migrants that are crossing the Mediterranean and give that information to the Libyan authorities so that they can be captured and brought back.

And thirdly, on shore in Libya, there is an armed presence, largely militia-run, that is keeping these people in large numbers in detention centers. The army, if you will, on land is also in different ways directly and indirectly funded by the EU, sometimes for better – for harm reduction purposes – and sometimes for worse.

Thinking of this more broadly, in my view, is important because, number one, it forces the EU generally to think, not in these isolated silos where we document the individual abuses, illegalities, unsustainable policies, but rather think about what’s driving them on a more general level. What we found is documented on the website that you can see here. In route, what we found were egregious illegalities and human rights violations on each of those three fronts. What we heard from experts about what might be done to try to reckon and stop this sort of broader policy, of returning people to places that are known to be engaged in human rights violations and, quite potentially, crimes against humanity, include a litany of pressure points. One on the broadest level would be to stop calling these interventions at sea rescues. These are arrests. They’re not rescues. They’re often occurring against the will of the migrants that are attempting to cross. They’re capturing people, the Libyan coast guard – usually, again, with EU intelligence from the sky and funding for the boats – and bringing them back to a place that is not a port of safety, which is illegal.

Number two, if we’re going to pressure the Libyan authorities to improve conditions in detention centers, that’s probably going to need to happen by squeezing the funding of the Libyan coast guard. Number three: litigation and legislation. And better oversight of the role that Frontex is playing in the sky, and facilitating these returns is clearly a front that your authorities on a broader level need to address. Number four: the search and rescue zone that has been expanded and allows Libyan authorities to capture migrants at sea in a wider realm and prevents NGOs like Doctors Without Borders from doing their actual rescue work. That larger search and rescue zone was approved by the UN and needs to be reversed. And finally, you know, prosecuting the relevant or at least investigating and exposing the relevant players who are engaged in illegal returns of people to a place, namely Libya, which is not a port of safety. Anything that directly or indirectly is facilitating those illegal returns should be handled as such. Which is illegal, unsustainable and immoral.

And I do believe that it would be up to the EU to attempt to address those upstream factors that are allowing those returns to happen. Thank you for your time. 

Chair Maria Arena: Thank you, Ian. So we will try to come back to Suki if it’s possible.

Assistent: Ms. Nagra, you can press the speak button.

Suki Nagra: Thank you. Apologies for the connectivity issues. I hope you can hear me now. I think I cut off when I was talking about the role of armed groups. As mentioned, many of the armed groups in Libya have been legitimized and operate under the state. So they’re in the realm of security institutions and directly involved in policing and controlling detention facilities. They operate above the law and pose a risk to the stability and security of Libya. So I’m pushing and advocating for multifaceted disarmament and demobilization efforts along with security sector reform that addresses the role and  empowerment of these groups.

The way that they’re operating now, they serve to undermine the political process. They make economic gains, both through payments received from the state coffers and by preying on vulnerable individuals. So the issue is critical and very much needs to be fully integrated into ceasefire and peace agreements.

I’ll also mention the issue of opportunity detention. This is a serious concern for us. It’s linked to enforced disappearances, victimizing both men and women, and the rates remain very, very high. At present we have over 12,000 detainees held in 27 prisons across Libya. But however, these figures are only the official figures.

There’s many, many people who languish in secret or illegal detention facilities operated by – upon groups. And these people are unable to challenge the legality of their continued detention. So I’ll call for robust measures to address all forms of arbitrary junction in the country.

We’re actively engaged in this process and I’ve engaged senior officials from the public prosecution and law enforcement agencies across Libya. And all of them recognize that while the legal framework exists, arbitrary detention is widespread. And they’ve agreed to work with the United Nations to form a committee that will aim to address all forms of arbitrary detention.

I also would stress that it’s important that we identify illegal facilities as part of the ongoing peace process and to ensure that they’re closed and all the cases are addressed to the official system. In terms of women’s participation where of course is the UN deeply committed to supporting the meaningful and equal participation of Libyan women in public and political life.

Women, however, faced numeral – numerous obstacles: the use of hate speech and incitement to sexual violence, including against civil society activists and human rights defenders, is widespread. Women who dare to speak out are being targeted, and sometimes, sadly, fatally. And women have been gunned down in broad daylight and they’ve been disappeared and their whereabouts still remain unknown.

So, calls for public empowerment of women and their representation in political and public life, particularly in the ongoing political process need to be matched with action and measures to protect Libyan women. So we’re undertaking a present series of consultations to identify key challenges and protection concerns related to women human rights defenders to facilitate a comprehensive protection strategy.

And my office is also working with Libyan stakeholders in supporting a draft floor of violence against women. We aim to solicit widespread political support for this draft law and support Libyan civil society in particular to be the champions of the law. And we need your support to ensure that these issues remain at the forefront of the agenda in Libya.

I’d also like to stress, if I have time, this issue of shrinking civil space – civic space. Civic space should not only be protected, but it needs to be expanded. And of course, human rights can not be realized without a thriving, safe and open space while civil society, organizations, and defenders of human rights can operate without fear, excessive state controls, discrimination, and marginalization.

In this sensitive and politically charged period, restrictions on fundamental freedoms are particularly concerning. We’ve documented incidents of the targeting of journalists, civil society activists, and any individuals expressing views against state agencies, or groups and political actors, 

Chair Marie Arena: I have to ask you to conclude? Thank you.

Suki Nagra: Yes, So I would just like to say finally that the EU sanctions that have been imposed have been a very effective tool. Of course they can’t replace justice and accountability, but they do send a clear message that heinous abuses will not be tolerated. So we hope that you will continue to use the threatening imposition of sanctions.

And finally, just that Libya is indeed going through a critical period. There are numerous challenges that I’ve highlighted, but there is hope on the political security and human rights fronts. So all of these are intrinsically linked and we seek your support in ensuring that key human rights issues remain on the agenda.

Thank you. And I look forward to answering any questions and apologies again for the connectivity issues. It’s always a bit difficult from Libya. 

Chair Marie Arena:  Thank you. Thank you, Suki. And I do like your message of hope in your conclusion when it comes to human rights. I give now the floor to Rosmaria Gili for three minutes. Rosmaria, are you here? You have the floor. 

Rosmaria Gili: Yes. 

Chair Marie Arena: Sorry.

Rosmaria Gili: Thank you. Madam Chair. Congratulations on being reelected. We’re delighted because we work very well with the EU. I would like to stress one thing, as the EU we really put human rights as the key feature in all of the relationships with our partners. We are harshly criticized for what we don’t do, there is hard recognition of what we do, or what we try doing, and I was very happy to see that colleagues from the UN have stressed some specific efforts we’ve done. 

I will say these times, we are certainly among the international partners who insist the most on the respect of human rights. It’s clear that sometimes we face huge challenges, and Libya is one of these cases. The situation is difficult for everybody. I stress this, that the presidency that went into this, this morning. And it is exactly this which guides our policy in Libya. 

We try to engage for the protection of human rights of everybody. I don’t want to say that migrants and the appalling reports that we have on the treatment of migrants in Libya do not deserve our focus – they do – and we do so, but we have to keep a much larger picture. Exactly to do this, and to try to develop a more strategic and comprehensive approach

We do engage with the authorities and with civil society. And we try through this engagement to have some progress, some concrete progress, on the ground. The challenges are massive, but there are things that we are working on, several things. And I will just touch them very briefly.

My colleague from Tripoli will give you more details, but I would like to stress the work that we have done to support the Fact Finding Mission and to support the renewal of the commission last October. And I must say again, we were among the few partners who were working with in the UN for the renewal of the commission.

You can continue to count on us for that. We are very engaged in accountability and transitional justice. We think on this, that as Suki was saying, it is fundamental for the long term stabilization of the country. It is also fundamental that we work with the Libyans. It must be their process of transitional justice, which we support and that we push for, 

But it must be their process if we want it to work. At the same time, we have to work a lot on the institutions and on the authorities, because it’s only through every enforcement of the institutional enforcement of the judiciary that we will really manage to have concrete developments on the ground.

If I comment a second on the specific migrant rights: then yes, we are working a lot on that. We can be criticized for what we don’t do, but and I think that this is why the UN has also decided to engage with us, we have to take into account that some things have happened thanks to what we are doing.

We are not funding the war against migrants. We are trying to instill a culture of human rights from those who deal with migration in Libya. 

Chair Marie Arena: Rosamaria, can I ask you to conclude?

Rosmaria Gili: Yup. Yup. 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you. So I now give the floor to Jose Antonio Sabadell, who is the Chief of Delegation in Libya. So you have the floor.

Jose Antonio Sabadell: Good morning, from what I remember. [Unintelligible]

Chair Marie Arena: So I think it’s better to have a phone call because it will not be possible to have a translation.

Jose Antonio Sabadell: Yes, I apologize. I probably have problems so I try to listen in from my phone, but apparently you can hear me from four microphones. 

Chair Marie Arena: Now it’s ok.

Jose Antonio Sabadell: So I start by thanking you, Madame Chair and the members of the subcommittee on human rights for this invitation and also to thank previous speakers for their very interesting presentations. So of course we are.. [Technical problem]

Chair Marie Arena: So we will try by phone and if not, I will start to give the floor to the MEPs. So perhaps not to lose time, I will give the floor to Andrea Cozzolino.

Andrea Cozzolino: Yes. Thank you very much, Marie. Thank you very much for hosting this meeting. Two minutes, two minutes. Yes, cut me off if needed.

Just a few comments. First of all, the stage on which we’re operating has a huge impact since we were working to ensure that December 24th was an important date. And if we could turn back time, perhaps that would be important. This would also be in line with the trust that citizens have expressed. Over 2.8 million people were signed up on the electoral rolls, but things didn’t roll out properly. And since 2014, many citizens have been unable to vote. So…we’re seeing uncertainty and a standstill domestically, and that has an impact on everything we’re seeing. 

Now, why is that the case? Not having a vote has indeed undermined the work that we’ve been doing in recent years. The parliamentary maturity has members who have called for the permission of the current leader and they stood for election on December 24th. So, the most likely outcome is a solution which focuses on unity in Libya. And that would be worse for us as Europeans.

We need to work to maintain unity in the country to ensure democratic processes, to lay the groundwork, to be able to go back to having elections. That’s key. Without that our debate is almost worthless. Now against this backdrop, the detention camps are a major problem.

As many people have mentioned today, two points that I think are very important. Swiftly please. Yes. First – Can we continue to think that we’re working in camps without having a true international plan to dismantle these camps? Is the work that we’ve done so far sufficient? Have we looked at how people are living in these camps without even talking about dismantling them?

Secondly, perhaps it’s time to stop funding the coast guard and consider a new mission for the coast guard. 

I think these are the two key points that we need to focus on now. Thank you very much. 

Chair Marie Arena: Giuliano Pisapia, standing rapporteur for Libya. Two minutes please?

Giuliano Pisapia: Thank you very much. Thank you, chairwoman. And thank you to our guests for shedding light on the situation. We were well aware of it, but unfortunately we’re seeing backsliding rather than progress. As we’ve heard, the situation is serious. And this threatens rights and is related to our responsibilities.

We know that those who are paying for instability are the most vulnerable – women, children, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. What we’ve heard today is discouraging, but we cannot let ourselves be discouraged. 

I think that we need to bear in mind a key tenet for the future of Libya and our relationship with Libya, namely, continuing to stress the importance of human rights and appropriate punishment for those who violate human rights.

Two questions for our guests – To your knowledge, what is the EU doing to put pressure on Libyan authorities to ensure guarantee of human rights, especially for migrants. Second, do you think the EU is going to, again, call for the UN mission to be continued? These are things that we should know, but unfortunately our individual situations are all different. So, I think it would be very helpful for me as a standing rapporteur on Libya to know what our guests expect to play out. Vis-a-vis these topics. Thank you very much. And I wish you every success, Madam chair in the next two and a half years on your time. 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you very much, Giuliano. And thank you for respecting the time. Janina, – -please. Janina, you have the floor for one minute. 

Janina Ochojska: It’s okay? Yeah. Now it’s okay. Yeah. More than 160 migrants drown in a ship for acts of Libya in December last year. In total in 2021, 1,500 people lost their lives in the coastal part of the country. So I have shortly two questions. If current EU financial programs for Libya tackle the problem of non-applicability of COVID-19 measures to migrants because the rights of migrants are also threatened. And how could we concretely apply a human based approach without worsening the current situation? Thank you. 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you, Janina. I give the floor to Jean-Christof Oetjen for renew. 

Jean-Christof Oetjen: Yeah. Thank you. Madam chair. And congratulations on your election. 

We have a vicious circle because it’s all about money in Libya and the migrants, they pay money for being disembarked, for being brought to sea on the boats. Then they are brought back to Libya. They go into a camp. There they pay money for getting out of the camp and they pay money  again to go on the sea where they are intercepted and go back etc. etc.

So, I think that we have to break this vicious circle, but how to do it? There are several options from my point of view.  Either we can stop bringing people back to Libya. This is probably the best option, but we need a safe harbor and the country who accepts them, which is difficult as we all know.

We have to urge the council to find solutions on that. We would need a European search and rescue mission, but the member states are reluctant on doing so. 

We could bring the people from Libya to other countries, but the ETM does not work. So my question is what would be the solution from the commission’s perspective on that matter because we have to break this vicious circle.

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you. Thank you. Uh, Tineke Strik, four degrees.

Tineke Strik: Thank you. Thank you very much for the whole panel of speakers. It was very informative and again, very concerning what we heard. It’s clear Libya’s not a safe place for migrants to say the least in this conclusion. As many things are known to the EU, I would like to focus my questions on the role of the EU and specifically to Mr. Urbina and Mr. Lewis. The EU, apart from the fact that funding interceptions and returns to Libya is a violation of human rights itself. I would like to know from you what your experience is with the EU funding on the territory itself. Does the funding in one way or another contribute, for instance, to these detention centers, apprehensions or deportations, without the guarantee of a proper asylum procedures. Who are conducting these violations? Can you make a distinction between de facto authorities and militias and who is benefiting from the EU funding?

Does the EU really use its financial leverage to impose conditions on the Libyan authorities to avoid human rights violations and strengthen the position of UNHCRs NGOs? And in this regard, does the EU push for changing the legal framework, which is criminalizing every migrant, regardless of their situation and need.

And my question to Mr. Guinea of the AIS. You stress that human rights are at the center of youth engagement, yet the EU finances, the Libyan coast guard, and Frontex with, as a result, that migrants and refugees have no way to escape the hell of Libya. And the only aim of the EU is to prevent refugees from reaching a place of safety in the EU.

Do you admit that this policy of the EU and the funding causes and increases human rights violations? 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you. Tinke, I think we have to stop now. Yeah. Thank you. Susana Ceccardi?

Susana Ceccardi: Thank you. Madam chair, the postponement of Libyan elections threw the country into chaos. Again, chaos gives rise to situations which are rather dramatic conflicts amongst tribes, where human traffickers find more favorable conditions for continuing to traffic people. In light of this we need to have new elections as swiftly as possible in Libya so that we can bring back some degree of normalcy and to ensure that there is one interlocutor for the EU, the Berlin meeting is on the right path for finding a shared strategy amongst EU countries. The EU from 2014 to 2020 spent, invested that is, more than 700 million euros in Libya. Most of these funds were for humanitarian assistance for migrants. That’s 57, only 57 million euros were for border controls. And therefore, a very important project for which Italy is an important partner and is coordinating the Marine search and rescue efforts.

So that’s very important for us. And I’m shocked to hear from our colleague. That they’re against this project because the Italian Coast Guard, the Italian other authorities are working to support the Libyan Coast Guard. And I’ll conclude on that. Thank you very much, Maria. So in recent months we heard a lot about an NGO that received money.

Chair Marie Arena: Madam that’s two minutes. I’m sorry. They’ve come to an end. 

Susana Ceccardi: I just one question by way of conclusion, if I may, um,

Chair Marie Arena: I give the floor now to Nikolaj Villumsen for the left one minute.

Nikolaj Villumsen: Thank you chair. I hope that my camera’s working now. 

Chair Marie Arena: It is not working. So I give the floor to Deirdre Clune for the EPP. One minute.

Deirdre Clune: Oh, sorry. Excuse me. Thank you for the opportunity and thank the speakers for their contributions. It’s been really interesting and, I mean, I think what we’ve heard is that the approach from the EU is a human rights point of view, and if we focus on that and maybe and trying to, um, support, uh, structural reform institutional reform, that is a path forward.

And I know that was also supported by Ms. Nagra. Ms. Nagra I just like to ask if I could, and number one, um, with the EU, if there are young representatives, um, on the issue with neighboring countries, now, I know the situation is very difficult there, but is there any preparation and engagement with  Libya when, when migrants are expelled to these countries, um, is there any support there or do you have any activities in those countries to, um, to try and work with migrants, um, to, to help them, but, but, um, Madam chairperson, I think we could speak forever for long time on this subject.

It’s, um, it’s something we need to keep in our sights, because the situation is changing there rapidly. And unfortunately with no elections last December, we don’t have a political situation within which we can engage. 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you. Um, we, we try Nikolai a second time, Nikolai. 

Nikolaj Villumsen: Thank you. I hope you see me well chair.

Chair Marie Arena: You have one minute. 

Nikolaj Villumsen: Perfect. It’s clear that the human rights situation for refugees and migrants in Libya is clearly getting worse. And unfortunately, it’s also clear after what we have heard today that the European Union is contributing to these terrible human rights violations by supporting the Libyan coast guard, both politically and economically.

So therefore I would like to ask the EAS how to make sure that nobody, EU and all of its member states violate the principle of non full mound through political and economic support for the Libyan coast guard. And secondly, I would like to hear the EEAS uh, how they will prioritize the release of all migrants and asylum seekers from detention centers in all diplomatic efforts with the Libyan authorities.Thank you, chair. 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you. Raphael Glucksmann. One minute

Raphael Glucksmann: Merci. Merci chair as well. Thank you. I’ll be brief. You said rightly that the situation is complicated and of course we cannot do everything. We’re talking about the European fund, which is contributing to violations of the most elementary human rights. So what are the specific measures taken by the European union to make sure that European funds do not lead to violations of human rights. Also, the European Union has taken action against massive violations of human rights in Libya. So have you any documents to identify who are those responsible and at council what has emerged from that? And what about any sanctions and how can they be contained? Thank you. 

Chair Marie Arena: Dietmar Koster you have the floor. Dietmar Koster?

Dietmar Koster: Thank you, Maria. And thanks for the valuable presentations they show. Libya is a place of hell and the European Union is contributing to this place over there for the migrants and refugees. I only want to mention the team of lawyers from NGOs who fight the communication to the international criminal court demanding the investigation of war crimes against migrants carried out by Libyan armed groups and officials with the support of Italian and Maltese authorities. I have only one question to the representatives of the UN: Have you established the EU’s and member state responsibility in grave human rights violations against migrants and refugees in Libya? What are you doing? Two raise this with the EU and the European capitals. Thank you. Thank you. 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you, Pierfrancesco Majorino.

Pierfrancesco Majorino: Thank you very much, Chair, Just a few quick comments. First and foremost, as our colleague Cozzolino said, we need to have stability, that’s a key plank for any future work. Secondly, the EU is not neutral. And my question for our guests is, what’s your impression – feel free to speak freely, about how the EU can ensure that its contributions are tied to respect for human rights.

I think that that’s key. It’s not enough to say the EU only is active in terms of humanitarian assistance. For example, we were also playing a key role when looking at the [02:01:00] member state government’s roles to ensure that 91 million set aside through the trust fund would be used to support the Libyan Coast Guard. So it’s not only about human rights, Thank you.

Chair Marie Arena: Isabel Santos, I don’t know if you are connected, you were in the room, but I don’t know if she’s connected. No, she’s not connected. So I will give the floor to the different experts. Perhaps we can start with Benjamin. We don’t have a lot of time, so I will give you the floor, uh, each of you for one minute and after we will conclude with the ambassador, but please, if you don’t have the time to answer all the questions, because we have a lot of questions, uh, you, you can do it by the, by written if it’s possible for you.

So I give you the floor for one minute each. So Benjamin, you have the floor. 

Assistant: Mr. Lewis, please press the speak button. 

Benjamin Lewis: Apologies, I hope I’m here now. Yes, I was saying thanks. There are many very good questions and not enough time to respond to them all. So I’ll try to put some responses in writing as well. Two quick points, if I may, in conclusion, First on solutions, a number of people have asked sort of, you know, what, what can be done.

That’s not currently being done and I think the primary answer to that is safe and legal pathways. Currently, there have only been around, I believe, 6,000 or so since 2017 evacuations through the UNHCR EMT, the Emergency Transit Mechanism, that clearly needs to be increased significantly, but that mechanism itself is limited by looking at certain nationalities, which of course is not sufficient.

So there needs to be more safe and legal pathways and there are some promising examples. For example, Italy and France have opened up humanitarian corridors or individual humanitarian visas and sponsorships. Switzerland has done some of the same, but those need to go from the hundreds to the tens of thousands, if they’re going to be meaningful.

And also just to note, the number of arrivals, irregular sea arrivals to Europe are relatively small. We’re no longer in 2015 and so I think we need to back away from some of the crisis posture of previous years and take a more reasonable approach. One of the figures I was looking at recently is that there are more visitors to a certain theme park in Romania on a certain day than there are to the EU in an entire year of arrivals from Libya.

So that gives a sense of the scale that we’re dealing with and, and that we’re not under crisis and that this can be dealt with humanely. Secondly, is the issue of responsibility of the EU and due diligence. It’s unclear from our reporting to what extent the illegal expulsions are being carried out, with EU support.

But I do think there are some questions that we were not able to answer that perhaps should be asked. For example, whether vehicles or equipment or technology being provided to MOI or DCIM are then being subsequently used to expel people illegally. There are certain recommendations being made by the EU border assistance mission, for example, and support being provided there that I think requires a critical lens from a human rights standpoint.

Um, I’m sorry. I realized perhaps I’m out of time. So let me put some other, uh, answers in writing. Thanks very much. 

Chair Maria Arena: Suki, if you want to take the floor. 

Suki Nagra: Thank you so much, Madam Chair, and some very important and critical questions raised by the members. And we thank you for your support and indeed to attention on Libya first and foremost, I am a stress that the EU delegation in Libya have provided us with excellent support and supported our own advocacy, messaging with authorities and on many occasions have used their leverage to support human rights both for migrants and indeed, for Libyans alike, including, for example, with the issue of humanitarian flights access for UN monitors. On the electoral front, indeed, the postponement or the elections has created yet more instability and uncertainty.

I’ve been meeting with political actors and representatives almost daily and it’s clear, you know, whatever their interests and ideology and whoever they support, that they want elections. They view elections as an answer to the political divisions that currently are, you know, dominating the political landscape and they see the elections as an answer to rectifying this and indeed, ending the perpetual transition and many interlocutors inform me that they will accept peacefully the results of any outcome. And I’m speaking to diverse individuals and they refer to their political rights, not only their rights as actors and candidates, but the thousands who have registered, you know, the millions, the two and a half million who’ve registered to vote.

Chair Maria Arena: Um, thank you. So sorry. Yeah. Um, Ian, I give you the floor for one minute. If you need, if you want to speak.

Ian Urbina: Thank you. I’ll try to keep it under a minute. I would simply suggest that a core response to many of the questions has to do with the attempt to decouple the Libyan Coast Guard and what’s happening on the water from what’s happening on land in the migrant camps. And I think that’s a fundamental problem with how this whole issue is being funded and discussed.

The abuses in the camps are part and parcel of the funding that goes towards the Libyan Coast Guard. The conditions in the camps, if you talk to any, whether they’re UN or not, any aid workers in Libya, they will tell you conditions in the camps are decreasing, access to the camps by outsiders are decreasing, populations in the camps are going up.

The reason that is, is because the Libyan Coast Guard is getting better at its job. And the reason that is, is that the EU is funding it with large help from Italy. And so until we’re honest about the funding that goes to the Libyan Coast Guard and the help being provided by Frontex and the responsibility that that funding has to the conditions in the camps and the abuses of the migrants there

We’re not going to have an honest reckoning with this problem. Thank you. 

Chair Marie Arena: Now I give the floor to Jose Antonio Sabadell, by phone. So we won’t have translation, but I think it’s okay. Everything will be in English.

Assistant: Mr. Sabadell, you can press the speak button, please.

Jose Sabadell: Okay, thank you. Thank you. And apologies for the connection problems Madam Chair, I will try to be very brief and to go straight to some of the questions that have been posed. The first one about the legal avenues for migration, this is a key issue in Libya before the revolution, there were between 1.5 and 2.5 million workers working illegally in Libya.

And, uh, now there has recently been a signature, an agreement with Egypt that will allow 1 million workers to work in Libya each year. And another one is being undertaken with Niger. So these avenues for legal migration can play a key role to improve the situation of all migrants. Second, on advocacy, we were asked whether we are trying to change the situation and the legal framework. Indeed this is one of the main efforts that we are doing with our partners, the African Union and the European and United Nations. We want to change the whole system, to seek alternatives for detention, if that is not possible in the short term, because it would force a radical change in the Libya legislation to at least find alternatives for the most vulnerable.

We have had some relatively positive news in the last few days with the inauguration for the first time of a camp for women and children that will be guarded by female guardians, which will at least avoid some of the abuses. One other point that they would like to raise is the fact that we are working on evacuation flights in that has had a very significant impact on the ground in the last five years, more than 65,000 people have been either taken back voluntarily to their countries of origin or taken to a safe place.

So 65,000 I think, it’s a very significant number and maybe just one last point on whether EU instruments and aid is used for violation of human rights. We have a very demanding due diligence process that prevents these from happening. I will stop here and due to the time, but I’m happy to continue this dialogue in another format. And I am, of course, ready at any time to pursue this dialogue. Thank you so much and apologies again. 

Chair Marie Arena: Thank you and for sure, we will continue this dialogue because it is not finished when it comes to human rights and human rights for migration and for migrants. So we will continue it and we will wait for the answer in Britain so I think it’s really important. 

I’d like to invite you to participate actively next week in the two days devoted to Afghan women. The presidency of the parliament follows the undertaking by Mr. Ascoli to organize these two days.

Participating is also an homage to the president who committed himself to give visibility to those women in their country and outside their country. So I really would invite you to attend meetings on that day. The next meeting is on 7th February from 1:45 until 6:45. We’ll carry on with our coordinator’s meeting.

Thank you very much. We’ll have a brief, uh, brief moment to empty the virtual room.

END

 

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