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Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers considers the situation in Libya

Committee on the Protection of the Rights
  of All Migrant Workers

5 April 2019

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families today concluded its consideration of Libya’s initial report on the implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Introducing the report, Khalid Masoud Abraheem Abousalah, Deputy Minister for Human Rights Issues at the Libyan Ministry of Justice, said that Libya had ratified the Convention in 2004 and had signed bilateral agreements with several neighbouring countries to enhance border security and combat smugglers and human traffickers.  The legislation allowed those who entered the country irregularly to regularize their status provided that they met the necessary legal requirements.  The rights of migrant workers were guaranteed in law and discrimination against them was a punishable offence.  The role of labour inspectors had been operationalized and they were empowered to ensure the respect of labour rights and optimal and safe working conditions for all workers, including migrants.  Before 2011, Libya used to receive millions of migrant workers whose rights were fully protected.  Currently, it was a country of transit for thousands of irregular migrants and despite instability in the sectors of security, politics and the economy, Libya nevertheless felt a moral, ethical and humanitarian obligation to offer help.  Irregular migration, the Deputy Minister continued, was a concern for all and Libya cooperated with neighbouring countries, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the International Organization for Migration to return irregular migrants to their countries of origin or to repatriate them to a third country, in order to protect them from becoming easy prey to human traffickers and smugglers or terrorist groups like Daesh.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts recalled Libya’s pioneering role in the ratification of the Convention; as one of a few destination countries that had joined in 2004, Libya had recognized the need to manage migration as a global issue.  Recognizing the current challenges, they asked how the national human rights institution and the judiciary were empowered to fulfil their mandates and purposes, and how the provisions of the Convention were disseminated among the judiciary, law enforcement services, and coast guards.  Before 2011, Libya had been a destination country for many, particularly from Niger, Chad and Sudan – how were their rights upheld in the current political situation and what was the content of bilateral agreements signed with their countries of origin, the Experts asked.  The Committee had heard harrowing accounts of open-air slavery auctions and videos posted on social media.  The Experts raised extreme concern about the existence of illegal detention centres for migrants where the conditions were appalling; arbitrary and indeterminate detention of irregular migrants and denial of due process and access to justice; reports of torture and ill treatment, including sexual violence against women and young girls; and the fact that many migrants died at sea and most remained unidentified.  In this context, the Experts probed cooperation agreements with the European Union and bilateral agreements with Italy, particularly in terms of compliance with Libya’s obligations under the Convention and other human rights treaties.  They asked about efforts taken to ensure the State’s control over all places of detention, to prevent torture and ill treatment, to prosecute and sanction the perpetrators, and to provide support and remedies to victims. 

In her concluding remarks, Jasminka Džumhur, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, urged Libya to engage in a serious dialogue with countries of destination, particularly those in the European Union, on how to improve the current situation of migrant workers in the country.  The Committee remained at Libya’s disposal and was ready to support the efforts to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families.

Ermal Frasheri, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, welcomed Libya’s decision to allow international agencies to access places where migrants were being held and reiterated the Committee’s availability to support capacity-building process in the State party.

Mr. Abousalah, in his concluding remarks, urged the Committee to ensure that its concluding observations were realistic and practical and that they bore in mind the economic and security situation in the country.  The problem of irregular migration must be tackled at the root, in countries of origin and those of transit, and all countries, particularly developed ones, must be involved.

Ahmadou Tall, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the words of hope and reiterated the Committee’s will to continue to work with Libya. 

The delegation of Libya consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labour, and the Permanent Mission of Libya to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Libya at the end of its thirtieth session on 12 April. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 12 April to publicly close its thirtieth session.

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Libya.

Presentation of the Report

KHALID MASOUD ABRAHEEM ABOUSALAH, Deputy Minister for Human Rights Issues at the Libyan Ministry of Justice, said that Libya had ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families in 2004 and had signed bilateral agreements with several neighbouring countries to enhance border security and combat smugglers and human traffickers.  Despite the challenges faced by Libya, the country’s legislation had provisions to settle labour disputes.  Libyan legislation guaranteed the rights of migrant workers and made discrimination a punishable crime.  The law allowed those who entered the country irregularly to regularize their status provided that they met the necessary legal requirements.  Employers were obliged to pay for the cost of the repatriation of the remains of migrant workers who died in service and provide indemnity.  The Ministry of Labour ensured that employers protected the rights of all workers, including migrant workers, and had operationalized the role of labour inspectors.  They were empowered to ensure the respect of labour rights and optimal and safe working conditions.

Irregular migration, the Deputy Minister continued, was a concern for all.  Libya was a country of transit and was going through a stage of security, political and economic instability; nevertheless, it felt a moral, ethical and humanitarian obligation to open shelters for irregular migrants who stowed away into Libya.  The country cooperated in this respect with neighbouring countries, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the International Organization for Migration to return these irregular migrants to their countries of origin or to repatriate them to a third country, to avoid them becoming easy prey to human traffickers and smugglers, or terrorist groups like Daesh.  Mr. Abousalah stressed in this context that the national legislation and sovereignty must be respected.  Stressing the importance of the Convention, Libya was dismayed that a large number of countries had not ratified it and the Deputy Minister called upon the Committee to continue to work on its universalization.  On 19 March, a workshop had been convened in Libya to examine the questions posed to it by the Committee in the preparation of the dialogue, in which many agencies had participated.  All line ministries were working on meeting the commitment to submit the third national report to the Universal Periodic Review.

The Deputy Minister reminded that before 2011, Libya used to receive millions of migrant workers whose rights were fully protected.  Currently, it was a country of transit for thousands of irregular migrants, to whom it generously provided humanitarian assistance and worked with international organizations on their repatriation.

Questions by the Committee Experts

JASMINKA DŽUMHUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, welcomed the delegation and regretted that the delay in the submission of the report had hampered the Committee’s preparation for this dialogue.  Libya had ratified the Convention in its early stage and so recognized the need to manage migration as a global issue, the Co-Rapporteur said.  She asked the delegation to inform the Committee about international human rights instruments that Libya had ratified since, including conventions of the International Organization for Migration.

Libya was not only a country of transit but of destination as well, remarked Ms. Džumhur and asked the delegation for date on the number of foreigners in Libya.  Could the delegation clarify the use of the term “illegal migration” in the submitted document and inform on the governmental bodies that were empowered to determine the legal status of these persons.  What rights were available to “illegal” migrants and how could they vindicate their rights?  The Co-Rapporteur noted with concern the great number of migrants who had lost their lives at sea while crossing the Mediterranean on their way to Western Europe and asked the delegation to elaborate on the measures taken to control the borders and ensure that border guards were trained in human rights.  How was Libya cooperating with the countries of destination for those migrants, including the dignified return of people to their countries of origin?

ERMAL FRASHERI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, welcomed the efforts to reform the Constitution and the fact that international treaties had superiority over national laws.  The delegation was asked about the efforts extended to disseminate the provisions of the Convention among the judiciary, law enforcement, and administrative officers in order to ensure its implementation in practice.  Turning to the most significant rights in the Convention, the Co-Rapporteur asked the delegation to explain how the right to leave one’s own and other countries, the right to life and protection from torture, and the right to health were being enforced and implemented in practice in Libya.  Finally, Mr. Frasheri asked the delegation to explain the access granted to international organizations and agencies to places where migrants were processed and to outline the principal mechanisms and practices of the cooperation with the European Union on the management of migration flows.

Other Experts recalled the reports and videos made public by migrants themselves which had shown migrants in Libya being sold as slaves and asked about the steps taken to put an end to such appalling acts and pay compensation to the victims.  What was being done to put an end to the exploitation and abuse of migrants by organized crime groups?

Quoting reports from a number of sources, the Committee raised extremely serious concern about the existence of illegal detention centres for migrants.  Detention seemed to be arbitrary and indeterminate, there was no registration process, no legal process and no access to justice, and there were reports of torture.  The Experts were also worried about the lack of the official registration of migrants in irregular situation, which made it particularly hard to grasp the dimension of the problem of irregular migration in Libya.  It was estimated that 40 places of detention of irregular migrants existed and some were under the Ministry of Interior, while others were controlled by groups outside of the State control, which was a particularly worrying situation.  How was the Government managing the situation of migrants in such centres and ensuring that torture and ill treatment did not happen? 

Women and unaccompanied minors were not recognized as vulnerable groups, noted the Experts, and were concerned over the reports from migrants themselves of women and young girls taken away at night by armed men.  It had been reported that in April and May 2017, 63 per cent of migrant children were unaccompanied.  The Experts were very worried about their arrest and indeterminate detention, and the fact that they were often detained with adults which put them at increased risk of all forms of violence and abuse, including sexual abuse.

Given the difficult situation in the country, were the national human rights institution and the judiciary able to fulfil their mandates and purpose?  The Experts reminded of historic migrations into Libya for work, particularly of nationals of Niger, Chad and Sudan, and asked the delegation to explain how their rights were being protected in the current political situation in the country.  What was the content of bilateral agreements with those countries?  

AHMADOU TALL, Committee Chairperson, recalled that the Committee had been harrowed by the reports of open-air slavery auctions and asked the delegation to explain its cooperation with consular services of countries of origin of the migrants arriving to or transiting Libya.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that once ratified, a convention entered the domestic legal order and reigned supreme over the national law.  The Constitutional body had ratified the new Constitution and submitted it to the Chamber of Representatives; it contained a chapter on rights and freedoms and represented a legal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The law governing labour relations and the law on the criminalization of torture had been enacted.

The law N°19 of 2019 governed the entry and stay of foreigners in Libya and focused on combatting illegal migration.  Prior to its adoption, the law N°6 of 1987 on entry, stay, and exit of foreigners had been used to govern migration, including irregular or illegal migration.  The law on labour relations of 2010 provided for the settlement of labour disputes, and provided for the equal protection of the rights of migrant workers.  Libya had ratified the International Labour Organization Convention 189 on domestic workers.
In 2016, Libya had created the post of State Minister for Migrants and Internal Displacement as well as the post of Under-Secretary for Migration in the Ministry of Interior.  The National Council for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms had a clear mandate to monitor the human rights situation in the country, including the rights of migrant workers.  The post of Deputy Minister of Justice for Human Rights had also been created to monitor and pursue violations of human rights.  A human rights office under the Ministry of Interior and another under the Ministry of Defence had been created as well.

The training on the rights of migrant workers had been integrated in the training curricula of border guards and coast guards; human rights training was a regular and ongoing activity for all public personnel.  The Ministry of Labour had developed a strategy for the entry of migrant workers into the labour market and the provision of information about labour rights.  In this, the authorities were cooperating with international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Support Mission in Libya.

Despite the division and the political and economic challenges, the judiciary was still coherent and professional.  Courts were present throughout the country and were accessible to all those seeking justice, without charge.  The delegation stressed that the judiciary was not under political pressure and retained its integrity, adding that isolated cases to the contrary should not be considered as the rule.

The national legislation ensured the rights of all workers without discrimination, including regular migrant workers.  Their rights were protected by the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the 2010 law on labour relations.  Discrimination was prohibited and was reinforced by laws.

The delegation said that there was a certain number of unaccompanied children, who had lost their parents and were mostly from The Gambia, Eritrea and Nigeria.  The authorities were cooperating with their countries of origin to ensure repatriation.

A committee had been set up to investigate the allegations of violence, abuse and exploitation of migrants by public officials, said the delegation and stressed that those were isolated incidents of officials who acted in collusion with organized crime groups.  There was no systematic abuse and exploitation of migrants by State officials.  The delegation also stressed that there was no evidence that the sale of migrants into slavery had taken place in official shelters.

Libya would not decriminalize illegal entry into the country because that would pose a threat to the stability and security of the country and open the way for the entry of terrorists.  Legal aid was provided to those who entered the country illegally.

In December 2018, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had issued a joint report which contained recommendations in the area of the detention of migrants.  There was no arbitrary detention of migrant workers in Libya; those in centres were not detained, but were sheltered there with their consent.  There was a special shelter for women irregular migrants.  Pregnant women were not detained.  All shelters were under the control of the Government.  The Ministry of Interior had opened the doors of all shelters for migrants to international organizations to monitor the situation and refute the misinformation that had appeared on the social media about the abuses and violations of rights there.

Libya did not host any refugees, was not a party to international legal instruments on refugees, and did not have national legislation on the issue.  Still, its doors remained opened and the country would soon adopt a law on the status of refugees.  Libyan consulates abroad attached the greatest importance to the Libyan community abroad, particularly migrant workers.

Regular migrant workers were provided with official documents so that they could move freely in the country.  Migrant workers enjoyed the same rights as nationals.  The Labour Code provided incentives to skilled foreign workers in a form of positive discrimination.  The law guaranteed access to primary and secondary education to children who resided in the country free of charge, including Palestinian and Syrian children.  Basic health care was provided free of charge to all without discrimination. 

The Senior Commissioner for Elections worked to provide access to voting for Libyans abroad, particularly in countries with a strong presence of Libyan nationals.  Territorial waters extended 200 nautical miles in the sea, and the authorities did not hesitate to provide assistance to ships in distress.  The delegation could not answer the question on the use of force in relation to ships carrying migrants.

Human trafficking was criminalized, the delegation said, and informed the Committee that the authorities were conducting investigations with persons accused of this crime.  Victims were hosted and provided with an opportunity to contact their consular offices; they had the right to shelter, education and financial assistance.  Agreements had been concluded with Niger, Chad and Sudan to beef up border controls and to combat human trafficking; the agreement with Chad also addressed the issue of irregular migration.

Persons who were in the country illegally had a possibility to regularize their status and there was a scheme with the Ministry of Labour to facilitate their entry into work, often as domestic workers.  Libya could repatriate mortal remains of migrants only to countries it had a bilateral agreement with.

Questions by Committee Experts

JASMINKA DŽUMHUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, stressed the importance of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture which provided for the creation of a national prevention mechanism against torture.  Were there any bilateral agreements in place with European countries of destination concerning the great number of migrants who were transiting through Libya, and what did cooperation with the European Union in this respect entail?  What was the status of the national human rights institution under the Paris Principles and how was its compliance with these standards demonstrated?

Ms. Džumhur noted that the delegation insisted on using the term “shelter” and remarked that elsewhere those were in fact termed “detention centres”.  Libya had enacted a number of laws to strengthen the protection of human rights in the country, including the rights of migrant workers, however, what mechanisms were in place to ensure their implementation in practice and ensure that they did not remain only declarations on paper.

ERMAL FRASHERI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, recognized the challenges that the country was facing, and said that the Committee aimed to better understand the situation in order to extend a helping hand to the Government.  In that sense, the Committee was interested in how the rights under the Convention were understood by the State and correspondingly, what legal, institutional and policy frameworks were being put in place to realize those rights.  Secondly, the Committee needed information on the implementation of laws and policies and to see them in action, and this could be ascertained through data on budgets and staff, and concrete measures and outputs.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation confirmed that Libya was a party to the Convention against Torture and it respected its commitments.  While the country was not a party to the Convention’s Optional Protocol, the Ministry of Interior had reiterated that the doors of all detention facilities and shelters remained open to international organizations for monitoring visits.  The law on the criminalization of torture and arbitrary detention had been adopted in 2013, while the 2016 law on transitional justice created a commission to establish facts and circumstances of arbitrary detention, as well as an office to investigate allegations of torture.  Libya was not a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The delegation reiterated the need for international support to help the country address security challenges connected to terrorist activities, which targeted Libyans and foreigners alike and resulted in gross abuses and violations of human rights.  Restoring calm and security could not be achieved without the implementation of a disarmament programme, addressing impunity, strengthening institutions, and ensuring a full-fledged dialogue between the citizens of Libya to allow the country to return to peace and stability.

Irregular migration was a significant burden and had negative economic and social impacts on the country.  Greater regional and international cooperation was needed to address the issue, stressed the delegation.  It was necessary for the countries of origin to improve their internal economic and social situations and allow a better quality of life for all.

Questions by Committee Experts

ERMAL FRASHERI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, addressed the involvement of the European Union in the migration crisis in Libya and asked the delegation to elaborate on the relationship with the European Union.  Did the European Union supervise the enforcement of the readmission agreement and the implementation of its migration policies?

JASMINKA DŽUMHUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, reiterated the difficulty that the Committee had in understanding better the migration processes in Libya.  She encouraged the delegation to engage in an open dialogue and help the Committee comprehend what it could do to support the State party.

Another Expert stressed the critical importance of Libya in the context of migration and the situation of migrant workers, not only in the region but globally.  Libya was among the first countries that had acceded to the Convention in 2004 and had been one of the very few destination countries in the world that had showed great courage in joining this instrument.  The Committee, endowed with information and data on the situation, could support the country in managing the current migratory challenges, through expert support of advocacy with destination countries.

The delegation was asked about measures in place to protect the physical integrity of detained migrants and prevent all forms of torture and ill treatment, including by guards and other official personnel, and legal channels available to counter irregular migration.

Under the agreements signed with the European Union, and Italy in particular, Libya received financial and technical assistance to assist interception, detention, and return of irregular migrants attempting to reach Europe.  However, since contemporary population movements were mixed in nature and contained persons in different degrees of need of international protection, a number of refugees and asylum-seekers had been caught up in these efforts.  The Committee was concerned about the human rights impact of such agreements and that new ones were being negotiated to process migrants intercepted and returned from their journey to the European Union.  To what extent did these agreements integrate Libya’s international obligations, including under the Convention?

Raising concern about the high number of migrant deaths at sea still occurring in the Libyan territorial waters, the Experts remarked that the identity of many was not known, and asked the delegation to elaborate on measures adopted to provide rescue, reception, and hosting of migrants in situations of distress; efforts to strengthen and coordinate search and rescue operations; the application of the forensic protocol and dignified treatment of the dead; and the tracing and informing of the families of the deceased.

Libya was also a country of destination for migrant workers from neighbouring countries, particularly Niger, Chad and Sudan, whose nationals arrived to Libya not to attempt to cross the Mediterranean on the way to Europe, but Libya itself was their destination.  What was the content of bilateral agreements signed with those countries?

Replies by the Delegation

With regard to agreements with the European Union, as well as bilateral agreements with European countries, the delegation stressed that those were in line with Libyan laws and policies on migration as well as with its international obligations.  The delegation reaffirmed that the Government had adopted a policy of free access of international organizations to shelters and the Government remained committed to it.

Libya did not shy away from acknowledging the numerous violations against irregular migrants, in shelters or elsewhere, and confirmed that those conducts and behaviours were individual and not systematic.  The Government of National Accord met all its obligations in this respect.  It had initiated a number of investigations into the allegations of rights violations and several prosecutions of perpetrators were ongoing.  The human rights offices in the Ministry of Justice and in the Ministry of Interior followed these issues and they regularly conducted visits to shelters.

Libya was seriously seeking to meet its international obligations, however, this was predicated on meeting the security challenges in the country.  The Government did not have accurate information about migrant deaths at sea nor about the number of irregular migrants in the country.  All regular migrants and those who had their status regularized enjoyed access to health and education.
 
Responding to questions on the efforts to decriminalize irregular migration, Libya did not intend to decriminalize illegal entry into the country as this could be misused by transnational organized crime.  All countries criminalized illegal entry and Libya had the right to protect its territory and laws on an equal footing with other countries.

Bilateral agreements with Chad, Niger and Sudan aimed to combat illegal migration and create an operation- and supervision-centre based in Chad.

Concluding Remarks

JASMINKA DŽUMHUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, hoped that the Committee’s concluding recommendations would support Libya in its continued efforts to implement the provision of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  The Committee appreciated Libya’s pioneering role in its ratification and urged the country to ratify other relevant human rights and labour conventions.  Libya should engage in a serious dialogue with countries of destination, particularly in the European Union, on the situation of rights of migrant workers in the country and how it could be improved, Ms. Džumhur said, and stressed that the Committee remained at Libya’s disposal and was ready to support the efforts to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families.

ERMAL FRASHERI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Libya, welcomed Libya’s decision to allow international agencies to access places where migrants were being held and reiterated the Committee’s availability to support capacity-building processes in the State party.

KHALID MASOUD ABRAHEEM ABOUSALAH, Deputy Minister for Human Rights Issues at the Libyan Ministry of Justice, said the Committee’s recommendations should address issues such as preventing irregular migration from the southern border, enabling the officials to detect irregular migrants, and putting in place an international information network on irregular migration.  Libya had participated in the dialogue with the Committee with an open mind, said the Deputy Minister, and emphasized that despite the challenges it was facing, the country complied with all the obligations arising from the Convention.  As soon as there was peace and calm in the country, Libya would be able to shoulder its responsibilities on the global stage, he said.   

The Committee’s recommendations should be realistic and practical and bear in mind the economic and security situation in the country; they should act as a bridge between the Government and this Committee, enable the Government to protect the human rights of all, including migrants, and support the efforts to assist the migrants to either return to their countries of origin or to continue toward their destination.  Mr. Abousalah stressed that the problem of irregular migration must be tackled at the root, in countries of origin and those of transit.  A global approach was needed and the participation of all countries, particularly developed ones.

AHMADOU TALL, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the words of hope and reiterated the Committee’s will to continue to work with Libya.  Mr. Tall welcomed the efforts Libya had been making in recent times despite the challenges it faced and urged it to take all the necessary measures to address the Committee’s concluding observations.

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