top of page


Coordination of

Libyan Coast Guard



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. 


Seventeen survivors of a fatal incident have filed an application against Italy with the European Court of Human Rights on 8 May 2018. The applicants included the surviving parents of two infant children who died in the incident. Italy has been enabling and coordinating the Libyan response at sea. The application asserts that Italy bears legal responsibility for the actions of the Libyan Coast Guard in this case. Numerous survivors were subject to serious abuse and some were sold into slavery. This action was initiated by GLAN and is now under the leadership of De:Border Collective.

Status: Awaiting decision


Not far from their raft was the Sea-Watch 3 vessel operated by the search and rescue organization Sea-Watch, which could have brought them to safety. Another 47 were captured by the Libyan Coast Guard, which returned them to Libya, where they suffered severe human rights violations, including rape and torture.

[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.

Anchor 2

Seventeen survivors of a fatal incident in which a boat carrying migrants found itself in distress off the coast of Libya have filed an application against Italy 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 had been donated by Italy a few months before. The intervention was coordinated from Rome by the Italian Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC). From Tripoli, an Italian navy ship, part of the Mare Sicuro operation, operating in Libyan territorial waters and facilitating interceptions by the Libyan Coast Guard since August 2017, acted as communication relay, assumed command and control tasks, and provided essential logistical support.


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.

Update: 3rd-Party Interventions

Since the filing of this case, several third-party interventions have been made. Submissions from the following third-parties are available here:


  • Oxfam Italy

  • International Human Rights Le Clinic at University of Turin

  • Defence for Children




Anchor 1

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 Italy’s cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard for migrants attempting to leave Libya have been catastrophic. Deaths by drowning, violence, and ill-treatment on board the Libyan Coast Guard vessel were captured on camera by the crew of the Sea-Watch 3.


Legal Case

GLAN's application was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights on 8 May 2018, in partnership with the Italian Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI). The case was prepared with support from the Italian grassroots movement and NGO ARCI, Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, and the Rosa Parks Migration Law Clinic of the University of Louvain. The legal argumentation is based on Violeta Moreno-lax’ academic research. The case exposes how the intervention of the Libyan Coast Guard follows the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concluded in February 2017 between Italy and the Libyan Government of National Accord. As a consequence of this and the underlying 2008 Treaty of Friendship signed by the Gaddafi and Berlusconi governments, Italy has been enabling and coordinating the Libyan response at sea through targeted funding, equipment, training, and direct involvement in the coordination and communication structures of the Libyan Coast Guard, to the point that, according to the Italian judiciary, Libyan interventions happen “under the aegis of the Italian navy”. The application asserts that such deep cooperation establishes Italy’s legal responsibility for the wrongdoing of Italian and Libyan actors, on the basis of the deployment by Italy of “contactless control” techniques that amount to a human-rights relevant exercise of “functional jurisdiction”.


The submission made use of evidence provided by the rescue NGO Sea-Watch, gathered through the Search and Rescue Observatory for the Mediterranean (SAROBMED) project, which is coordinated by the Law School of Queen Mary, University of London. This evidence was then systematised and analysed by Forensic Oceanography, part of the Forensic Architecture agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, who produced a detailed reconstruction of the incident and its underlying policies. This action was initiated by GLAN and is now under the leadership of De:Border Collective.

Wider Context

In 2012, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found in its Hirsi judgment, 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 the prohibition of collective expulsion. These accords have been reactivated through a 2017 MoU between Italy and Libya, which has led to Italy training, equipping, and financing the Libyan Coast Guard and providing far-reaching 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 set of violent practices, including the widely criticized EU-Turkey Statement, which impinges on migrant rights, while relying on the extraterritorialisation of border controls as techniques of avoidance of legal responsibility. The increasing number of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean in recent years is a direct result of States ignoring international law.

Anchor 3
Anchor 4

We’re challenging injustice.

By subscribing to our newsletter you’ll receive emails about how our innovative legal actions are challenging human rights violations and environmental harms. Plus, you’ll receive information on how you can get involved.

We respect your privacy. For more information on how your data is used, please see our privacy policy.

subscribe to our newsletter 


bottom of page