A handout photo made available by German NGO 'Mission Lifeline' shows migrants aboard the NGO's rescue vessel 'Lifeline' in the Mediterranean on 25 June 2018 | Photo: EPA/FELIX WEISS
A handout photo made available by German NGO 'Mission Lifeline' shows migrants aboard the NGO's rescue vessel 'Lifeline' in the Mediterranean on 25 June 2018 | Photo: EPA/FELIX WEISS

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement that "the Italian government should firmly reject a proposal to fine shipmasters up to 5,500 euros for every person they rescue and take to Italy." The measure is included in the government's forthcoming second security decree, known as "security decree bis".

The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling on the Italian government to "firmly reject a proposal to fine shipmasters up to 5,500 euros for every person they rescue and take to Italy." 


The proposal is included in the government's second security decree, which Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini said will be issued soon. "Salvini's latest salvo in his war on humanitarian rescue puts a price tag on the right to life," said Judith Sunderland, HRW associate Europe and Central Asia director. 

"The rest of the coalition government should reject this naked effort to discourage saving lives at sea, including by merchant vessels." 

HRW said that since Salvini became interior minister, he has repeatedly sought to further restrict the already extremely tight Italian policies on rescues at sea and disembarkation of people rescued at sea. It said Italy has cut back on search-and-rescue operations, delayed or refused taking people rescued at sea to Italy, and supported efforts by Libyan coast guard forces to interdict asylum seekers and migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean. 

'Proposed measure based on flawed reading'

"The proposed measure is based on a partial and deeply flawed reading of international law," Human Rights Watch said. "The law of the sea governing rescue operations imposes obligations on shipmasters to respond to situations of distress at sea and to take the people rescued to safe places. This includes general guidance to cooperate with and follow instructions from coastal states that have assumed responsibilities to conduct and coordinate rescue operations in their declared search-and-rescue region. These duties should be read in conjunction with the nonrefoulement obligation in international human rights and refugee law, which prohibit the return of refugees to persecution and the return of any person to the risk of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment," HRW said. 

It said these conditions are "well-documented" in Libya and that the United Nations has "repeatedly emphasized" Libya is "not a safe place to take people rescued at sea". It said abuses that have taken place in migrant detention centers have been documented through countless first-hand accounts. HRW said the proposal would put shipmasters between the anvil of international laws (and possibly laws of the ship's flag state) and the hammer of sanctions threatened by Italy. 

'True emergency is risk of death at sea'

HRW said Salvini is trying to push through these measures using a procedure that allows for legislation by government decree only in "extraordinary cases of need and urgency." It said the requirements of necessity and urgency were unclear "given that only 1,091 people have been disembarked in Italy since the beginning of the year". 

"The real emergency is the risk of death at sea, and the horrifying detention conditions in Libya," Sunderland said. "Instead of criminalizing humanitarian rescue operations, the Italian government should work with other EU governments to ensure search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, coupled with a fair distribution of responsibility for people rescued, and to ensure safe ways for migrants and refugees to escape Libya," she said.
 

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