Italy: President called on to uphold the constitution as government ministers violate the separation of judicial and political powers

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President called on to uphold the constitution as government ministers violate the separation of judicial and political powers
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Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini, of the far-right Lega Party, is determined not to let migrants rescued in the Mediterranean land in Italy and in doing so has been using the rescued people as pawns, keeping them without a port of safety for days on end.

A recent case posed a problem for Salvini. On 8 July 2018, the Vos Thalassa, a boat that services an oil platform belonging to the company Total, rescued 67 people, including three women and six minors. The rescue boat crew did not return the rescued people to the Libyan Coast Guard as they were instructed to do, because those who were rescued did not want to go back to the camps in Libya and agitatedly complained about this to the crew when they realised they were heading south. The head officer on board asked for the Italian Coast Guard to intervene, and the ship started heading for Italy.

The M5S infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli authorised the Diciotti tug boat to intervene by taking the rescued people on board. He started tweeting about a revolt on board by "thugs" (facinorosi) who put the crew's lives at risk and would have to be tried in Italy, and of threats to the crew members. Salvini went so far as to call them "violent hijackers" and said they would not be allowed to disembark unless they were all identified, in handcuffs and arrested.

Thus, to add to the ongoing obstruction of rescue activities by NGOs and the targeting of merchant vessels (including the Danish Alexander Maersk cargo ship which had to interrupt its activities when it was denied a port to dock in for days after rescuing 110 people before disembarking them in Pozzallo) even an Italian Coast Guard boat was held up.

The interior minister is not a judge or a policeman and cannot order that people be arrested simply on his say so. It also appears that reports from the two ministers about the people on board being threatening and violent thugs did not measure up to the fact they simply got nervous and protested when they realised they may be heading towards Libya for a rendezvous with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.

The Osservatorio Solidarietà Carta di Milano directed an appeal to the President, Sergio Mattarella, calling for legality to be restored (in terms of allowing those rescued to land and concerning the interior minister's conduct). The President intervented on 12 July, calling Prime Minister Conte to tell him the situation was unacceptable and that the Diciotti had to be allowed to dock.

Salvini continued by saying if the rescued people weren't arrested, the crew of the Vos Thalassa boat had to be arrested for not handing them over to the Libyans - to try to remedy the fact that both he and Toninelli had spoken of violence, threats and even the hijacking of the boat by those rescued.

Signatures are still being collected on this appeal to put an end to the two ministers' attempts to prevent boats from landing and from discouraging and obstructing the work of rescue crews. The President was called upon because he is technically the guarantor of the Constitution and the ministers are flagrantly violating the separation of political and judicial powers. Their policy for the institutionalisation of denial and obstruction of rescue operations (especially but not only by NGOs) has already seen the number of recorded deaths since 1 June (when they took office) far outstrip those from January to May - in those five months there were 390 deaths at sea in the central Mediterranean; since June to date, there have been 717, according to IOM data from 19 July 2018 (IOM, link).

In the meantime, Italy is busy keeping NGO rescue boats and aircraft away from the area off the Libyan coast where the so-called Libyan Coast Guard is supposed to operate, by returning people to the country's detention camps and centres. It is also causing problems for any ships which do so (commercial, EUNAVFOR Operation Sophia and now even Italian military and coastguard boats) by keeping them senselessly at sea for hours and days on end without providing a disembarkation port. Apparently, harming people who are already traumatised and at times in horrific conditions after months spent in Libyan camps -malnourished, injured and scarred - with young children suffering extreme sunburn after spending days at sea on vessels, is viewed by the government as a clever ploy to pressure other countries to take on responsibility for them.

The appeal thus remains open for signatures by individuals, groups and associations in Italy and abroad on FACINOROSO E' CHI, RESPINGENDO I PROFUGHI, CALPESTA LO STATO DI DIRITTO(, link, translation below)

The thugs are those who trample on the rule of law to turn back refugees.

Unofficial translation by Statewatch of the appeal to the President of the Republic

Illustrious Mister President of the Republic,

We turn to You as the highest authority and guarantor of the respect for the Republic's Institutions and for the Constitution, to ask You whether it is possible -in this Italy in which we are increasingly disoriented, in which the ports are closed for shipwreck survivors and their rescuers are treated as criminals- for an Interior minister to arrogate the competence to decide the refusal to allow the entry of exiles rescued at sea, or the arrest of people - at present only accused by a tweet by the Infrastructures minister - who are labelled as "thugs" for rebelling, without damaging any things or people, against the prospect of being taken back to Libya, a country where the use of torture and the buying and selling of slaves has also been ascertained by the UN.

"Before conceding any kind of authorisation, I await to know the names, surnames and nationalities of the violent hijackers who will have to disembark from the Diciotti [coastguard tug boat] in handcuffs". We ask You: can a minister of our Country utter such a sentence? Every single word of this sentence is an attack against our civil and democratic life, as well as the Magistrature's independence.

We are witnessing the political, juridical and human inheritance that we were entrusted by the founding authors of the Constitution faltering, as are the separation of Powers and the central place assigned to solidarity, evoked in art. 2 of our Constitution. What is happening is reminiscent of the black page of European history of the Jewish refugees of the Saint Louis ship, who at least were never considered criminals to be disembarked in handcuffs, but they remained as ghosts of the guilt of European States under the yoke of nazi-fascism.

This is why we appeal to You, who are the guarantor of our civil coexistence: we ask for pietas, justice, the inviolability of fundamental rights and the principle of the separation of powers to continue being the foundation of our democratic life as citizens, where nobody can be marked as a "thug" - synonym of delinquent, with an inclination for violence and fighting - for having reacted with terror to the prospect of being handed back to their jailors, having fled from persecutions, escaped torture and survived death at sea.

What emerges from the official documents published to date, is not a presumed aggression suffered by the crew of the ship by the rescued people, but their "state of unrest" when "at around 23:00, some of the migrants who possessed telephones and GPS verified that the ship was heading south".

What the documents certify, is an operation that was evolving into a collective refoulement enacted under the coordination of the Rome MRCC (from 22:00, as can be read in the message sent by the Italian Coast Guard tug boat, the Vos Thalassa was heading for "the meeting point with the Libyan motor patrol boat"), in violation of the non-refoulement principle enshrined in the Geneva Convention.

We ask You, mister President, to adopt the necessary measures to return us to a Country that is not disfigured by pushes that - without the necessary balance between powers and institutional roles - risk leading to the ripping of the fabric of constitutional principles on which the rule of law is based and to the violation of international conventions undersigned by our Country.


Press coverage

Next Quotidiano, 10.7.2018, Giovanni Drogo, Fact checking: 'Il penoso spettacolo di Salvini e Toninelli sui naufraghi della Vos Thalassa'

Repubblica, 12.7.2018, Alessandra Ziniti, 'Migranti, l'sos della Vos Thalassa e il mistero della protesta a bordo'

Avvenire, 13.7.2018, Matteo Marcelli, 'Migranti. Nave Diciotti, interrogatori in corso. Di Maio: bene l'intervento del Colle'

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