Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) expresses deep concern over the ongoing human rights situation across the Central Mediterranean Sea. Particularly, our organization is very much concerned with the constant denial of several European costal States to let migrants rescued at sea disembark in their ports. The last vessel carrying rescued migrants to be denied access by a Member State of the European Union (EU) belonged to the NGO Sea Watch. After having rescued 47 migrants in situations of distress at sea, Sea Watch was denied access to Italian ports for days. The migrants on board were ultimately allowed to disembark in Italy the night of Sunday 19 May 2019. However, this is only the last and more recent episode of a long series.
GICJ, as well as various UN experts, condemn the growing criticism reserved to NGO ships carrying on search-and-rescue (SAR) operations. On 20 May 2019, a group of UN experts strongly condemned the proposed draft decree by the Italian Minister of the Interior to fine those who rescue migrants and refugees at sea. GICJ reminds all stakeholders involved of the pivotal role of NGOs in SAR operations and strongly condemns the accusations against them by many governments in the recent years.
Since 1 January 2019, 432 migrants lost their life in the Mediterranean - 257 of these fatalities occurred along the Central Mediterranean Route. Although the total number of losses and casualties in the area has dropped drastically since 2018, the Central Mediterranean is considered to be the deadliest migration route in the world. With this report, GICJ aims to keep high the attention on the issue of human rights violations that occur during the route. With the awareness that human rights violations can occur both in the pre-departure phase, while crossing the Mediterranean and once arrived at the destination, the aim of this report is to assess the ones occurring in the Central Mediterranean Sea, i.e. during the crossing phase.
Giulia Marini, researcher at GICJ and author of this report, describes it as follows: “The report analyses the legal framework necessary to assess violations in the Central Mediterranean. She particularly emphatized the issue of accountability for human rights violations by highlighting the most relevant events occurred in 2018 and 2019 in the area. In particular, she decided to focus on the most recent cases of denial of access to port by EU Member States to SAR ships carrying rescued migrants and to the situations that may possibly amount to human rights violations for which States can be deemed responsible.”
GICJ keeps looking with great attention at the Central Mediterranean migration route and remains deeply concerned about the behaviour of costal States with regard to the respect of their human rights obligations. The events highlighted in this report clearly show that the EU needs to foster cooperation amongst its Member States with regard to migration issues in order to ensure the respect of human rights in all circumstances and at all times.