Italy: UN expert condemns ‘criminalization’ of those saving lives in the Mediterranean

Criminal proceedings in Italy are ongoing against the crew of the rescue boat Iuventa and the former captain of rescue boat Sea-Watch 3. A UN human rights expert says the charges should be dropped, because those saving lives at sea are "human rights defenders and not criminals."


Press release published by UN Human Rights on 8 October 2020.


Italy: UN expert condemns ‘criminalization’ of those saving lives in the Mediterranean

GENEVA (8 October 2020) – A UN human rights expert condemned today the criminalization of 11 human rights defenders in Italy, saying their efforts to search for and save lives of migrants and asylum seekers in distress in the Mediterranean should instead be applauded.

“Carola Rackete, the former captain of the rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, and the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members are human rights defenders and not criminals,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“I regret that the criminal proceedings against them are still open and they continue to face stigmatization in connection with their human rights work protecting the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean Sea.”

In September 2016, a criminal investigation was opened against some crew members of the Iuventa rescue ship.Charges against them included aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration, an offence that carries a jail term of between five and 20 years, and a fine of 15,000 euros. On 18 June 2019, a motion for the dismissal of the preliminary criminal investigation against the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members was filed, but a formal decision is still pending.

Ms. Rackete was arrested by Italian authorities on 29 June 2019 for docking her rescue ship, with 53 migrants on board, without permission. At the beginning of this year, acting upon appeal, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that she should not have been arrested. Despite this, Ms. Rackete continues to face charges, including aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration. She risks up to 20 years of imprisonment , and various fines of up to 50,000 euros.

Since 2014, at least 16,000 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean, according to the IOM's 'Missing Migrants' project. “The Italian Government must publicly recognise the important role of human rights defenders in protecting the right to life of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean and must end the criminalization of those who defend their human rights,” Lawlor said.

The expert’s call has been endorsed by: Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Mr. Obiora Okafor, Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Dubravka  Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Elizabeth Broderick, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

ENDS

Ms Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was the Director of the Irish Section of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, became a Board member in 1975 and was elected Chair from 1983 to 1987.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Italy

For more information and media requests please contact Adriana Zarraluqui (+41 22 917 9965 /azarraluqui@ohchr.org) or write to defenders@ohchr.org

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org) and Kitty McKinsey (kmckinsey@ohchr.org)

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