'Right to life must prevail over security'
In a statement on the letter sent to the Italian government, the UN experts said the following:
"The right to life and the principle of [not returning people to a country where they are in danger] should always prevail over national legislation or other measures purportedly adopted in the name of national security... We urge authorities to stop endangering the lives of migrants, including asylum seekers and victims of trafficking in persons, by invoking the fight against traffickers. This approach is misleading and is not in line with both general international law and international human rights law... Restrictive migration policies contribute to exacerbating migrants' vulnerabilities and only serve to increase trafficking in persons."
The letter was signed by the following UN experts:
- Felipe González Morales, special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
- Nils Melzer,
on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Maria Grazia Giammarinaro,
on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
- E. Tendayi Achiume,
on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
- Michel Forstm,
on the situation of human rights defenders
- Obiora C. Okafor, independent expert on human rights and international solidarity
The UN experts affirmed the criticism expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a letter sent to Italy on May 15. Voice of America reported
that the commissioner called the decree "yet another political attempt to criminalize search and rescue operations."
Experts ask for withdrawal of previous directives
The six UN experts, who urged officials to reply to their letter, asked for the withdrawal of two previous directives denying access to Italian ports to ships operated by NGOs that have rescued migrants off Libya's coasts.
The experts said the directives stigmatize migrants as "possible terrorists, traffickers and smugglers," without providing evidence. "We are concerned that this type of rhetoric will further increase the climate of hatred and xenophobia, as previously highlighted in another letter to which the Italian government is also yet to reply," they said.
The UN officials asked Rome in particular to withdraw a directive that they say singled out the Mare Jonio rescue vessel.
"We are deeply concerned about the accusations brought against the Mare Jonio vessel, which have not been confirmed by any competent judicial authority. We believe that this represents yet another political attempt to criminalize humanitarian actors delivering life-saving services that are indispensable to protect humans' lives and dignity."