Human Rights Watch sounds alarm over Italy's Libya mission

2017-08-03 07:45
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Rome - Human Rights Watch warned on Wednesday that Italy's naval mission to prevent migrants from setting sail from crisis-hit Libya for Europe could see Rome commit human rights abuses.

The Italian parliament earlier gave the go-ahead to providing technical support to the Libyan coastguard in its fight against human traffickers in the hope it would reduce the number of people arriving on Italy's coasts.

But the American-founded rights group said Rome risked preventing genuine asylum seekers from escaping a country where migrants face detention in squalid camps and abuse at the hands of traffickers.

"The Italian navy deployment in Libyan waters could effectively lead to arbitrary detention of people in abusive conditions," said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"After years of saving lives at sea, Italy is preparing to help Libyan forces who are known to detain people in conditions that expose them to a real risk of torture, sexual violence, and forced labour," she said.

Such a move "could implicate Italy in human rights abuses".

Italy is expected to begin by sending a logistics ship and patrol boat as well as mechanics to maintain equipment.

HRW said Italy's Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti had refused to tell parliament where migrants intercepted or rescued in operations involving the Italian navy would be disembarked.

Under human rights law, no-one rescued or intercepted by an EU-flagged ship or under the control of an EU member state can be sent back to a place or handed over to authorities where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment.

"This includes pushbacks to Libya or handovers to Libyan forces and applies even if Italy rescues or interdicts people in Libyan territorial waters," Sunderland said.

"Even if the Italian navy simply provides intelligence to Libyan coast guard forces that leads to the foreseeable apprehension and detention of migrants in abusive conditions, Italy could share responsibility.

"Italy could also be implicated in denying people's right to leave any country and interfering with the right to seek asylum under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights," she said.

Libya has not ratified the international refugee convention and does not have a functioning asylum system.

Read more on:    hrw  |  libya

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