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UN: Italy should stop criminalising migrant rescuers

July 18, 2019 at 6:30 pm

UN human rights experts on Thursday expressed “grave concern over the detention and criminal proceedings in Italy against the German captain of the migrant rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3.” Anadolu Agency reported.

“Rescuing migrants in distress at sea is not a crime. We urge the Italian authorities to immediately stop the criminalisation of search and rescue operations,” the UN human rights experts said in a statement.

Sea-Watch is a non-governmental organisation that conducts civil search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, according to its website.

On June 12, Sea-Watch 3 ship rescued 53 people and for more than two weeks in the international waters, captain Carola Rackete requested a safe port for the migrants but denied by Italian and Maltese authorities.

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Rackete was arrested and placed under house arrest on June 29 for docking the vessel at the Italian port of Lampedusa. She was produced before a judge on July 1 for ignoring the police and docking at the Italian ports but the judge dismissed the charges the next day.

However, she remains under investigation in separate criminal proceedings over allegations relating to endangering the lives of police officers and facilitating illegal migration. If convicted, she could face up to 15 years in prison.

“Ongoing attempts to suppress NGO search and rescue operations put the lives of thousands of migrants attempting to cross the sea at risk,” Obiora C. Okafor, an independent expert on human rights and international solidarity, said in the statement.

“This prosecution could have a chilling effect on migrant rights defenders and on civil society as a whole,” said Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

After the decision to release Rackete, the judge was accused by Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Mateo Salvini of being politically biased.

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“Politicians should refrain from commenting on judicial decisions, especially when legal proceedings are still ongoing,” said Diego Garcia-Sayan, the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

“Public statements and personal attacks by high-ranking political figures are a serious interference with the autonomy of individuals judges, and may have the effect of hampering the authority of the judiciary as an autonomous branch of the State power.”

Italian Interior Ministry had passed a new decree-law, forbidding humanitarian ships from entering its territorial waters.

A total of 30,510 migrants died between 2014 and 2018 while making the treacherous journey to Europe, the UN agency had said in January 2019.