This week marks one year since the airstrike on the Tajoura Detention Centre in Libya which resulted in the killing of at least 52 migrants and the injury of 87 others in one of the deadliest incidents since the launch of the attack on Tripoli in April 2019.
The attack on Tajoura, where migrants and refugees were trapped, and where some had been detained for up to two years without charge, underlines the urgent need to close down all migration Detention Centres in Libya and release migrants and asylum seekers, along with the provision of protection and assistance. This is particularly urgent as Libya grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, with detained migrants and asylum seekers who are vulnerable and exposed, given the poor sanitation, health and overcrowded conditions in detention centres.
According to the UNSMIL/OHCHR public report on the airstrikes, the Tajoura attack, depending on the precise circumstances, may have amounted to a war crime. In addition, the failure to move detainees from the vicinity of a potential military objective or move military objects that were positioned next to the detention centre, likely amounting to a violation of the obligation under international law to take all feasible measures to protect civilians under their control from the effects of potential attacks.
Mandatory or indefinite detention in the context of migration is in itself arbitrary. Detention must be justified as reasonable, necessary and proportionate in the light of the circumstances and reassessed as it extends in time. Asylum seekers who unlawfully enter a State party’s territory may be detained for a brief initial period in order to document their entry, record their claims and determine their identity if it is in doubt. Irregular entry or stay within a country should not constitute a criminal offence, as the individual has not committed a crime per se against persons, property or national security.
The UN is concerned that over 5000 migrants and asylum seekers have been intercepted at sea this year and returned to Libya where they are frequently subjected to arbitrary detention, human rights violations and abuses. We continue to receive reports of unlawful killings, torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, trafficking and sale of migrants in Libya, which depending on the precise facts may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.
We call on the Libyan authorities to investigate all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and reports of abuses of human rights and to hold those responsible to account. We welcome the recent statement by the ICC prosecutor that she is investigating arbitrary detention and mistreatment of migrants in Libya and we call for accountability.
Source-United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).