26 June 2014

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented human rights abuses in Libyan detention centres and calls on the EU and Italy to immediately suspend all aid to the centres until it is demonstrated that abuses have ended.

Preliminary findings from the investigation of Libyan migrant detention centres reveal systemic violence against refugees and migrants held at eight of the sites visited in April 2014. 138 detainees were interviewed as part of the investigation; nearly 100 reported being regularly assaulted by guards. The interviewees described being beaten with iron rods, sticks and rifle butts; whipped with cables, hose pipes and whips made of car tyres and plastic tubes; burned with cigarettes and subjected to electrical shocks. Among the interviewees are a number of boys as young as 14.

Men and women alike reported being strip-searched by male guards on arrival at the centres and having to endure invasive body searches. “When I arrived here, the guards put us [23 women] in a room, told us to take off our clothes and then put their fingers inside our vaginas”, disclosed a 21-year-old detainee from Eritrea.

HRW researchers also found extremely poor sanitary conditions in eight of the centres visited and severe overcrowding in all nine. “In some centres, Human Rights Watch researchers saw up to 60 men and boys crammed into spaces as small as 30 square meters. In others, hundreds of detainees spilled from rooms into narrow corridors – in some cases flooded by overflowing blocked toilets – to use every inch of space.” Furthermore, none of the detainees had recourse to courts nor were they given an opportunity to challenge their detention and deportation. Human Rights Watch stresses that such detention without access to judicial review is arbitrary and prohibited under international law.

The detention facilities are operated by the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combating Illegal Migration. HRW underlines that the EU and Italy support Libya’s detention centres by rehabilitating some centres and funding international and Libyan nongovernmental organizations providing assistance there According to HRW, the EU and Italy have committed at least €12 million over the next four years. Libya’s coast guard also receives support from Italy and the EU for the purpose of intercepting and rescuing migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels. The coast guard detains them pending deportation, together with thousands of others apprehended in Libya.

HRW recommends that the EU and Italy immediately suspend all aid to the centres until it is demonstrated that abuses have ended. To that end, the Interior Ministry would need to investigate the abuses, prosecute responsible parties, and adopt a monitoring system. The system should allow free access to all official migrant detention centres for the UN Support Mission in Libya and UNHCR, which would in turn issue a public report on whether abuse had stopped.

The EU and Italy are encouraged to inform the Interior Ministry that all further aid will be discontinued for any detention centre that does not meet minimum standards by the end of 2014.

HRW also recommends that the Libyan authorities: 1) immediately shut down the Soroman and Tomena detention centres, which demonstrated the most serious instances of violence and severe detention conditions, and transfer detainees of these facilities to less crowded detention centres; 2) either remove all detainees from Libya without delay if they are found to have been in the country unlawfully or release them if they wish to make refugee claims with UNHCR; 3) forbid the use of violence against detainees, instructing guards in proper procedures, and suspending and punishing those found to have committed violence; and 4) work with the EU, Italy, and international agencies working in the centres to determine what help the authorities need to bring the centres in line with minimum detention standards.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 27 June 2014.
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