29 June 2020
London, 29 June 2020 - The civil liberties organisation Statewatch has today delivered an open letter  with hundreds of signatories to Mr Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of International Maritime Organization (IMO), calling on him to revoke the Libyan maritime search and rescue (SAR) zone  in order to prevent the so-called Libyan Coast Guard undertaking 'pull-backs' of migrants to Libya, where they face violence, abuse and mistreatment.
The letter, drafted by Statewatch and Osservatorio Solidarietà  demands that the Libyan SAR zone, which was declared in December 2017 and has been operative since mid-2018, be struck off from international records for five key reasons:
This letter supports a submission made to the IMO in March 2020 by the NGOs Comitato Nuovi Desaparecidos del Mediterraneo, Progetto Diritti and Open Arms, to which the IMO has still not responded. 
More than 200 individuals and over 70 associations, groups and networks (some of which represent dozens of civil society organisations) from Europe, North Africa and beyond have signed the letter. 14 MEPs from nine Member States (Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) and three groups in the European Parliament (European United Left/Nordic Green Left, Socialists & Democrats and Greens/European Free Alliance) have given their support to the initiative. 
The European Commission formally recognises that Libya is unsafe for migrants, as certified by national and international courts, as well as UN agencies (UNHCR, IOM), special rapporteurs and experts on human rights. However, in practice, the Commission cooperates with EU member states and third-country governments and agencies to engineer a context that results in death at sea or returns to Libyan camps, where torture, mistreatment and other human rights abuses are rife, as the outcome of attempted sea crossings.
Yasha Maccanico, a researcher for Statewatch, said:
"The Libyan SAR zone makes a mockery of the law of the sea. It allows other states to relinquish their responsibilities under international law and subordinates human rights, the right to life and the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment to the EU's restrictive migration policy approach. The IMO needs to stand up to states misusing procedures for instrumental purposes, for the sake of the international legal system as a whole."
Yasha Maccanico, Statewatch, yasha [at] statewatch.org
Lorella Beretta, Osservatorio Solidarietà della Carta di Milano, cartamilanosolidarieta [at] gmail.com
 The 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, for which the IMO is the responsible body, is designed to ensure that "no matter where an accident occurs, the rescue of persons in distress at sea will be co-ordinated by a SAR organization and, when necessary, by co-operation between neighbouring SAR organizations." It requires that rescued persons be taken to a place of safety. More information is available here.
 Statewatch is a non-profit-making voluntary group founded in 1991 comprised of lawyers, academics, journalists, researchers and community activists. Its European network of contributors is drawn from 18 countries. Statewatch encourages the publication of investigative journalism and critical research in Europe in the fields of the state, justice and home affairs, civil liberties, accountability and openness. Website: https://www.statewatch.org/
Osservatorio Solidarietà is a group of activists, journalists, jurists, citizens acting in solidarity, members of NGOs and associations. Its goal is to identify and criticise political, media and legislative attempts to discredit and oppose initiatives to act in solidarity. Website: http://osservatoriosolidarieta.org/
 A first letter to the IMO was sent by Comitato Nuovi Desaparecidos, Progetto Diritti and Open Arms. See: Emiliano Drudi, Esposto all'IMO per demolire l'alibi della zona SAR libica, Tempi Moderni, 31 March 2020. It was reported on in English here.
 The full list of signatories at the time of delivery can be found attached to the letter (pdf).
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