Rights groups demand ICC probe into Libya migrant abuses

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FILE - African migrants look at the Mediterranean Sea as they await disembarkation at the port of Augusta, on the island of Sicily, Italy, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. The migrants say they were tortured and their families extorted for ransoms in Libya's detention centers. Rights activists sent a dossier of evidence to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday Nov. 23, 2021, demanding an investigation into abuses of migrants in Libya that they argue "may amount to crimes against humanity." (AP Photo/Ahmed Hatem, File)

THE HAGUE – Human rights activists sent a dossier of evidence to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday demanding an investigation into abuses of migrants in Libya that they argue “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

The filing, which is confidential, is the latest attempt to have ICC prosecutors investigate the treatment of migrants seeking to make dangerous trips across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in smugglers' boats.

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In 2019, lawyers called for an ICC probe into the European Union's migrant policy, alleging that EU officials are knowingly responsible for migrant deaths on land and at sea, as well as culpable for rapes and torture of migrants committed by members of the Libyan coast guard, which is funded and trained at the expense of European taxpayers.

The file sent to the ICC on Tuesday urges prosecutors to investigate “armed groups, militias and Libyan state actors” for crimes including “arbitrary detention, torture, murder, persecution, sexual violence and enslavement.” It names 19 potential suspects including militia chiefs.

“The extreme scale, systemic nature, and seriousness of the abuses suffered by migrants and refugees in Libya trigger ICC jurisdiction” said Dorine Llanta of the International Federation for Human Rights. “Our analysis of reliable open-source information and survivor testimonies clearly shows that many of these abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Rights groups that sent the file to the ICC said in a statement that it is based on interviews with 14 survivors who are now in safety outside Libya and on reports by the United Nations and other organizations. It says that migrants in Libya face a “continuous cycle of abuse that is both widespread and systematic.”

They say that exploitation of migrants including “enslavement, extortion and torture has become an important source of revenue in Libya’s conflict economy.”

The ICC opened an investigation in Libya a decade ago amid a violent crackdown on dissent by former dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The longtime strongman was among those named as a suspect by the court but was captured and killed by rebels before he could be brought to justice in The Hague.

The court also has filed charges against Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam linked to his alleged role in the 2011 crackdown. He has never been handed to the court and earlier this month announced his candidacy for the country’s presidential election next month.

The global court does not have its own police force to arrest suspects, instead relying on cooperation from individual states. Libya is not one of the 123 member states of the Hague-based court, which opened its investigation in the country following a request from the United Nations Security Council.

The ICC is a court of last resort that takes on cases where countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute crimes.

“We strongly believe that only the ICC can address the complexity of the criminal system aimed at exploiting the human suffering of the migrants and refugees in Libya," said Chantal Meloni, Senior Legal Advisor at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

She called on the court's chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, "to finally take the necessary steps to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

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