Coordination of

Libyan Coast Guard


[Warning: Distressing imagery]

A video op-ed by the New York Times of their investigation into the increasing number of partnerships by state actors in Mediterranean search-and-rescue operations. With contributions from GLAN.

Seventeen survivors of a fatal incident in which a boat carrying migrants found itself in distress off the coast of Libya filed an application against Italy today with the European Court of Human Rights. The applicants included the surviving parents of two children who died in the incident. 


On 6 November 2017, the Libyan Coast Guard interfered with the efforts of the NGO vessel Sea-Watch 3 to rescue 130 migrants from a sinking dinghy. At least twenty of them died. The Libyan vessel was donated by Italy a few months before. The intervention was partly coordinated from Rome by the Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC), an Italian Government agency. An Italian navy ship was nearby, part of the Mare Sicuro operation which has operated in Libyan territorial waters facilitating interceptions by the Libyan Coast Guard.


The Libyan Coast Guard ‘pulled back’ the survivors to Libya, where they endured detention in inhumane conditions, beatings, extortion, starvation, and rape. Two of the survivors were subsequently ‘sold’ and tortured with electrocution.


On Nov. 6, 2017, at least 20 people trying to reach Europe from Libya drowned in the Mediterranean, following an interception by the Libyan coast Guard. 


Not far from their raft was the Sea-Watch vessel operated by humanitarian organization which could have brought them to safety. Another 47 were captured by the Libyan Coast Guard, which returned them to Libya, where they suffered abuse — including rape and torture.


Seventeen survivors of a fatal incident filed an application against Italy with the European Court of Human Rights on 8 May 2018. The applicants included the surviving parents of two children who died in the incident. Italy has been enabling and coordinating the Libyan response at sea. The application asserts that Italy has legal responsibility for the actions  of the Libyan Coast Guard in this case. Numerous survivors were subject to  serious abuse abuse an some were sold into slavery.

Status: Awaiting decision


Update: 3rd-Party Interventions





A video reconstruction of a pull-back of 47 migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard in November 2017 by Forensic Architecture and Forensic Oceanography.


The consequences of the agreement for migrants attempting to leave Libya have been catastrophic. Deaths by drowning, violence and ill-treatment on board the Libyan Coast Guard vessel have been captured on camera by the crew of Sea-Watch 3. 

According to GLAN legal advisor Dr Violeta Moreno-Lax (of Queen Mary, University of London), “the Italian authorities are outsourcing to Libya what they are prohibited from doing themselves, flouting their human rights obligations. They are putting lives at risk and exposing migrants to extreme forms of ill-treatment by proxy, supporting and directing the action of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard”. 

Legal Case

GLAN's application was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights on 8 May 2018 in partnership with the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), with support from the Italian non-profit ARCI and Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic. Our case exposes how the intervention of the coast guard follows the terms of a February 2017 formal agreement between Italy and the Libyan Government of National Accord. As a consequence of this and several other agreements, Italy has been enabling and coordinating the Libyan response at sea. The application asserts that the agreement establishes Italy’s legal responsibility for the actions of Italian and Libyan vessels in this case.

The submission made use of evidence compiled by Forensic Oceanography, part of the Forensic Architecture agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, who have produced a detailed reconstruction of the incident and the policies that have contributed it.

Wider Context

In 2012, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found that Italy's ‘push back’ campaign — orchestrated through multiple accords, including the 2008 Berlusconi-Gaddafi Treaty of Friendship — breached international law, specifically the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment and protections against collective expulsion. These accords have been reactivated through a 2017 agreement between Italy and Libya, which has led to Italy training, equipping, and financing the Libyan Coast Guard and providing technical, strategic and political support. 


Illegal methods of border enforcement have proliferated along the borders between rich and poor countries, with well-established consequences for the rights of migrants, including their right to life and the prohibition of torture. ‘Pull-backs’ are one feature of a growing practice, including the widely criticized EU-Turkey deal, which impinges on migrant rights, while relying on techniques of avoidance of legal responsibility. The increasing number of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean in recent years is a direct result of state practices that neglect international law.