An image from Forensic Oceanography. Credit: Forensic Oceanography
An image from Forensic Oceanography. Credit: Forensic Oceanography

A group of migrants supported by international organizations have filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights against Italy for "coordinating the Libyan coastguard in the pushback operations leading to maltreatment and migrant deaths".

Seventeen survivors of a fatal sea crossing in November 2017 have filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights against the Italian government for "coordinating the Libyan coastguard in the pushback operations leading to maltreatment and migrant deaths". 


The plaintiffs include the parents of children who died in the incident. The lawsuit has been filed by Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and the Italian association of immigration lawyers ASGI with the support of NGO ARCI and Yale Law School's Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic. Their presentation was made possible thanks to evidence gathered by Forensic Oceanography, based at Goldsmiths University in London, which has produced a detailed reconstruction of the incident.  

The facts of November 2017 

On 6 November 2017, the Libyan coastguard "interfered with the rescue operations undertaken by the NGO vessel Sea Watch 3 on behalf of 130 migrants on a sinking dinghy", the organizations say. "At least 20 migrants died. The Libyan ship was supplied by Italy a few months earlier", and the intervention at sea "was partly coordinated by the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) of the Italian coast guard". 

The associations report that the Libyan authorities took some of the survivors back to Libya, "where they were detained in inhuman conditions, undergoing beatings, extortion, hunger and rape. Two of the survivors were subsequently "sold" and tortured using electroshock. The lawsuit filed with the ECHR claims that the intervention by the Libyan coastguard "is a consequence of the Italy-Libya agreement of February 2017", which has meant that "Italy has supported and coordinated the Libyan sea response". 

This fact "establishes the legal responsibility of the Italian government in the actions of the Italian and Libyan vessels. The consequences of this agreement have been catastrophic: death by drowning, violence and abuse on board the Libyan coastguard vessel," report the organizations. 

Lawsuit to "restore migrants' rights" 

The lawsuit "re-establishes the political and legal responsibility for what is happening at sea," said Sara Prestianni of ARCI during a press conference in Rome. "The images show the Libyans beating the migrants and throwing objects at Sea Watch," said Charles Heller, co-founder of Forensic Oceanography. "It is a paradigmatic incident that highlights the effects of the policies of "criminalization of NGOs and externalization of border control". 

As soon as it has intercepted the migrants, the Libyan coast guard "subjects them to verbal and physical violence. The Italian authorities could not have been unaware of this conduct," said Loredana Leo of ASGI. With this lawsuit "we have restored the possibility for people to claim their human rights and appeal against a State that has de facto denied their right to life", said Giorgia Linardi of Sea Watch.
 

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