UN: EU Support for Libyan Coast Guard is "Inhuman"

Courtesy UNHCR

Published Dec 12, 2017 8:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights alleged that European Union support for Libya's Coast Guard is "inhuman" because it results in thousands of people being subjected to “unimaginable horrors” in Libyan detention camps. 

On a recent UN inspection of Libyan government detention facilities in Tripoli, “monitors were shocked by what they witnessed: thousands of emaciated and traumatized men, women and children piled on top of one another, locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic necessities," according to an OHCHR spokesperson. The list of alleged abuses included beatings and electric shocks for detainees who ask for food; rape and sexual violence (including, according to recent reports, the sexual abuse of male detainees); and an absence of sanitation facilities. 

Media reports from Libya also suggest a thriving slave trade, with male migrants sold for several hundred dollars each as "merchandise," according to video footage released today by CNN. 

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” said  United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein.

The EU is providing the Libyan Coast Guard with training and material assistance to support its mission to intercept migrant boats and return the passengers to Libyan shores. The growing success of these interdiction efforts – combined with an on-shore crackdown on human smuggling in Libya – is contributing to rising numbers of migrants in Libyan custody. The UN says that the number of detainees is now approximately 20,000 individuals, up from 7,000 two months ago.

Allegations of Libyan Coast Guard abuses

In addition to the reports of inhumane conditions in Libyan detention centers, maritime rescue NGOs allege that Libyan coast guard forces abuse maritime migrants at sea and attempt to interfere with rescue operations. In the latest instance, German NGO Sea Watch asserts that the crew of a Libyan patrol boat beat rescued migrants with a rope and attempted to repel the NGO's RIB, contributing to the deaths of at least four adults and one child (out of 55 total fatalities). 

In previous run-ins, Libyan forces have fired warning shots at NGO vessels. In August, Catalan maritime rescue NGO Proactiva Open Arms alleged that a Libyan patrol boat fired warning shots and threatened to shoot at the migrant rescue vessel Golfo Azzurro if it did not depart. A video of the interaction posted on social media included audible gunfire.