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Eritrean Refugees in Danger of Deportation from Libya

Letter to Mu'ammar al-Gadaffi

Human Rights Watch has learned that your government may be in the process of forcibly returning Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Libya to Eritrea, where they face unlawful detention and probable torture. We have received reports that Eritreans are currently being held in Kufra, Misurath, and Tripoli in anticipation of mass deportation to Eritrea.

We strongly urge the Government of Libya to respect its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (which Libya ratified in 1989) and under customary international law. As a party to the Convention, Libya has an obligation not to return any person to a place where they face torture or ill-treatment.

Article 3 of the Convention against Torture provides:

1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person toanother State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

Under customary international law, Libya is also obliged not to return any asylum seeker or refugee to a place where they may face persecution or their lives or freedom are at risk.

The government of Eritrea imprisons Eritrean citizens who have fled and have been returned involuntarily. Eritreans deported from Malta in 2002 were imprisoned and tortured. There have been many other credible reports of physical and psychological abuse in Eritrean prisons and other places of detention. It is therefore highly likely that Eritreans forcefully repatriated from Libya will also be subject to persecution.

If your government is unwilling or unable to grant asylum to Eritrean refugees, we request that your government facilitate their resettlement in another country in accordance with article 3 of the U.N. Declaration on Territorial Asylum. Article 3 provides that in such situations, a State “shall consider the possibility of granting the persons concerned, under such conditions as it may deem appropriate, an opportunity, whether by way of provisional asylum or otherwise, of going to another State.”

To return these refugees and asylum seekers to Eritrea would violate the international principle of non-refoulement.

We thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter and would appreciate learning of any steps you have taken to ensure that these persons rights are protected.

Yours truly,

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East and Near Asia Division

Cc: His Excellency Muhammad Ali al-Misrati
Secretary of the People's Committee for Justice and General Security Secretariat of the People's Committee for Justice and General Security
Tripoli,
Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

His Excellency Abd al-Rahman Mohamed Shalgam
Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation,
Secretariat of the General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation
Tripoli
Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Dr. Muhammad Abduallah al-Harari
Secretary for Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the General Peoples’ Congress
P.O. Box 84662
Tripoli
Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

His Excellency Ambassador Abuzed Omar Dorda
Permanent Representative of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to the United Nations
309-315 East 48th Street
New York, NY 10017
United States of America

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