Alexander Rubinstein

An investigation by the United Nations has concluded that money provided by the European Union to state entities in Libya has facilitated crimes against humanity ranging from forced labor and sexual slavery to torture.

Through its financial support of the Libyan Coast Guard and the Libyan Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), the European Union has aided and abetted crimes against humanity, according to a recent UN report.

On March 27, 2023, the United Nations released the findings of a three-year investigation, confirming that “arbitrary detention, murder, rape, enslavement, sexual slavery, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance” has become a “widespread practice” in the once-prosperous nation of Libya, which was plunged into civil war by NATO’s regime change war over a decade ago.

While crimes against humanity were found to be widespread throughout the country, the report homed in on the plight of migrants and blamed the European Union for enabling the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity to enact abuses against Africans seeking asylum in Europe.

The report stated in its introductory section: “The Mission found that crimes against humanity were committed against migrants in places of detention under the actual or nominal control of Libya’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, the Libyan Coast Guard and the Stability Support Apparatus. These entities received technical, logistical and monetary support from the European Union and its member States for, inter alia, the interception and return of migrants.”

In other words, rather than directly intercepting migrants traveling by boat to Europe, the European Union has outsourced the dirty work to the Libyan Coast Guard. Once the coast guard detains the migrants, they are sent back to Libya and transferred to both official and “secret prisons” where they are often exploited for financial gain through forced labor, ransom, or sexual slavery. 

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that migrants were enslaved in detention centers of the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration,” the report stated, adding that DCIM and Coast Guard personnel and officials are implicated “at all levels” while high-ranking officials “colluded” with traffickers and smugglers both in the context of detention and interception. 

“The Mission also found reasonable grounds to believe that guards demanded and received payment for the release of migrants. Trafficking, enslavement, forced labor, imprisonment, extortion and smuggling generated significant revenue for individuals, groups and State institutions,” the report claims.

In 2017, international media reported the revival of the slave trade in Africa due to continuing fallout of the NATO-backed regime change operation to depose Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. The United Nations has now confirmed that the practice not only persists, but that it has been enabled by the EU.

“The support given by the EU to the Libyan Coast Guard… led to violations of certain human rights,” UN investigator Chaloka Beyani told reporters. “It’s also clear that the DCIM has responsibility for multitudes of crimes against humanity in the detention centers that they run. So the support given to them by the EU has facilitated this. Although we are not saying that the EU and its member states committed these crimes, the point is that the support given has aided and abetted the commission of the crimes.”

According to a 2021 report by the Brookings Institution, the EU has funneled $455 million to the Libyan Coast Guard and other government agencies since 2015.

Meanwhile, an investigation by The Outlaw Ocean Project and The New Yorker found that money from the EU “pays for everything from the buses that transport captured migrants at sea from port to the prisons to the body bags used for the migrants who perish at sea or while detained.

According to their joint investigation, Libya’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration “received 30 specially modified Toyota Land Cruisers to intercept migrants in Libya’s southern desert,” while money from the EU also helped DCIM purchase “10 buses to ship captive migrants to prisons after they are caught.”

The violent overthrow of Gaddafi’s government by NATO and the bands of Salafist insurgents it sponsored in 2011 plunged Libya into a state of civil war, with swathes of the country overtaken by Al Qaeda and ISIS-aligned bandits. As NATO and its jihadist proxies bore down on him, Gaddafi warned that his ouster would result in the destabilization of entire regions of the continent and a new migration crisis for Europe, with the Mediterranean transformed into a “sea of chaos.”

Gaddafi’s son, similarly warned at the time, “Libya may become the Somalia of North Africa, of the Mediterranean. You will see the pirates in Sicily, in Crete, in Lampedusa. You will see millions of illegal immigrants. The terror will be next door.”

The UN investigator, Professor Beyani, blamed Libya’s current crisis on a “contestation for power,” alluding to the power vacuum the West created in Libya with its regime change war while avoiding any direct reference to it. Human Rights Watch has also veered away from discussion of NATO’s 2011 intervention in its coverage of the UN report, which it described as “brutal and damning.” Perhaps that was because its director at the time, Ken Roth, was a prolific supporter of the assault.

The transformation of Libya into an anarchic hellscape has dramatically reduced the risk that would-be migrants to Europe would be detected by EU authorities. The UN report estimates that more than 670,000 migrants were present in Libya during parts of its investigation.

The lack of a strong, stable central government in Tripoli has allowed for an entire industry to develop with exploitation of migrants as its business model. “Detention, trafficking migrants, is big business in Libya. It’s an entrepreneurial project,” Beyani told France 24 following the report’s release.


Alex Rubinstein is an independent reporter on Substack.


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