The International Criminal Court in The Hague is being asked to investigate crimes against migrants in Libya and the Central Mediterranean. Several European NGOs say officials in Italy and Malta could also be liable for having supported Libya’s actions.
Three Europe-based non-governmental organizations – StraLi, based in Italy, the Dutch group UpRights and France-based 'Adala for All' – claim that crimes committed by Libyan armed groups between 2017 and 2021 against migrants and asylum seekers could amount to war crimes.
In a request filed to the International Criminal Court this week, the organizations say Libyan groups are accused of committing crimes against thousands of migrants, including children, held in detention centers in Libya. Migrants who are intercepted at sea and returned to Libya are routinely and systematically subjected to serious abuses, such as murder, torture, rape, forced labor and forced conscription, they add.
Those allegedly responsible include members of armed groups in control of detention centers who are acting under the authority of Libyan authorities, as well as the Libyan Coast Guard and the 'Department Combatting Illegal Migration,' the NGOs say.
Last week a Libyan NGO, Libyan Crimes Watch, said that a Moroccan migrant had died earlier in January while being tortured in a detention center in the Maya region, west of Tripoli, and that another had died in the same center because of inadquate health care, according to reports from the online news sites Libya Observer and Libya Review.
Also read: Numbers of migrants intercepted by Libyan coastguard 'almost tripled' in 2021
Italy and Malta 'complicit'
In addition to the Libyans, the ICC Prosecutor is being urged to investigate the potential criminal conduct of Italian and Maltese authorities and officials for supporting the Libyan actors.
Italy has been cooperating for years with the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrants at sea and return them to detention centers. Support from Italy has included finance, equipment and training of the Libyan Coast Guard. Maltese officials have also coordinated with the Libyan Coast Guard on rescue operations and the Maltese government has been accused over illegal pushbacks of migrant boats to Libya.
The support by the EU countries "qualifies as a form of contribution to the crimes committed against migrants in [Libyan] detention centers," UpRights claimed in a statement on Tuesday (January 18).
Ramadan Amani, from Adala ('Justice') for All, said there was "a massive amount of evidence of pervasive international crimes on Europe’s doorstep."
Crimes related to migration a new challenge for ICC
The NGOs allege that the crimes committed against migrants and asylum seekers should be investigated as war crimes under Article 8 of the International Criminal Court Statute and as crimes against humanity under Article 7.
Alessandro Pizzuti, co-founder of UpRights, said the International Criminal Court needed to adapt to tackle the crimes committed against migrants, which he said were different from the kinds of atrocities addressed by the Court so far.