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UN expert condemns criminalisation of NGO rescuers

Activists welcome support but call for action against EU’s border regime

A UN human rights expert condemned yesterday Europe’s criminalisation of NGO refugee rescuers, calling for cases against them to be dropped.

UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders Mary Lawlor defended the actions of 11 refugee rescuers with criminal cases hanging over them for saving lives at sea.

Ms Lawlor said that the 10 members the Iuventa rescue ship, accused by the Italian government of aiding illegal immigration, and former Sea Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete, who last summer entered an Italian port with 53 rescued people on board without authorities’ permission, “are human rights defenders and not criminals.”

“I regret that the criminal proceedings against them are still open and they continue to face stigmatisation in connection with their human rights work protecting the human rights of migrants and asylum-seekers at risk in the Mediterranean Sea,” Ms Lawlor said.

“The Italian government must publicly recognise the important role of human rights defenders in protecting the right to life of migrants and asylum-seekers at risk in the Mediterranean and must end the criminalisation of those who defend their human rights.”

Sea Watch advocacy officer Berenice Gaudin told The Civil Fleet today that the organisation welcomed Ms Lawler’s statement for acknowledging “what we have been saying for years: human rights defenders should not be criminalised for saving lives at sea.”

“It is a really strong condemnation of Italy’s behaviour towards NGOs,” Ms Gaudin added.

“Several NGO vessels, including our Sea Watch 3 and Sea Watch 4 ships, are still blocked in Italian ports.

“I have hope that this will put further pressure on the Italian government to end its criminalisation of NGOs.

“At this very moment, the investigations against our captain Carola Rackete are still ongoing, and [Italy’s former interior minister Matteo] Salvini’s security decree has still not been revoked.”

Sascha Girke, one of the “Iuventa 10,” told The Civil Fleet on behalf of the group yesterday that though they welcomed the special rapporteur’s support for their case, they “wonder about the effectiveness of such statements.”

“Europe’s Mediterranean border today is a political forcefield, free from any legal, political and ethical obligations to people on the move.

“There are hundreds of ‘crimes of solidarity’ happening all over Europe. And so today’s statement can consequently only be interpreted as condemning all other cases of this kind and as standing for the annulment of sentences already imposed, the cessation of ongoing investigations and the release of confiscated resources.

“If we relate this statement to the everyday reality of European external and internal borders, then the special rapporteurs must oppose the entire European border regime.”

Top pic of the Iuventa by Keny Karpov

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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