Gafà hits back: “Have you heard of Operation Sophia?” after Cassola asks ICC for investigation

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Former OPM official and Partit Laburista activist Neville Gafà has hit back at independent candidate Arnold Cassola after the latter has filed complaint before the International Criminal Court to investigate Neville Gafà’s role in the possible refoulement of people fleeing war in Libya.

In his email to ICC, Cassola attached a link to an interview which appeared on the MaltaToday.

“If what is written is true, this would be violating basic human rights and would constitute a serious breach in international law,” Cassola wrote. He added that if there were grounds that such a breach has occurred then Gafà and disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat should be investigated since the latter entrusted Gafà with carrying out such a breach.

Reacting to reports that Cassola has written to the ICC, Gafà asked whether he had heard of Operation Sophia and whether he was aware of the scope of Operation Sophia.

Writing on Facebook, Gafà who is associated with the medical visa scandal, said that a few days ago, EU Foreign Affairs Ministers have agreed to launch a new naval operation in the Central Mediterranean, with the old mission that was supposed to fulfill that brief to be closed down.

He asked whether Cassola would write to the ICC to launch an investigation into Joseph Borrell if the operation is closed down.

Humanitarian NGOs operating civil search and rescue vessels have repeatedly reported that the Libyan Coast Guard is unreliable.

Gafà testifies before the public inquiry

Gafà whose contract was not renewed last month, testified before the public inquiry last week.

During his testimony, he acknowledged having a diplomatic passport and argued that his secretive work in Libya saved “thousands of lives”. Gafà told the board that his job was to coordinate between the Libyan authorities and the AFM.

A secret deal with Libya

Last November, the Times of Malta had revealed how Malta had secretly negotiated an agreement with Libya on migrants. The agreement would see the Armed Forces of Malta coordinating with the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrants headed towards the island. The migrants would be returned to Libya.

The deal was in part brokered with Gafà, according to the Times of Malta.

Call for an inquiry

Civil Society Network has called on Prime Minister Robert Abela to set up a public and independent inquiry into the “illegal” agreement reached between the Maltese Government and the Libyan Coast Guard which could have led to several thousands of lives lost.

“Neville Gafà’s recent testimony suggests an illegal pact, resulting in a potential serious breach of international refugee law. Malta has effectively been sending thousands of people to their death,” the statement reads.

The NGO cited the Geneva Convention which enforces non-refoulement – the practice of sending an asylum-seeker back to a dangerous country that poses a serious risk of torture and death.

“Libya is not a safe country, a position upheld by various international organisations.”

Operation Sophia

Operation Sophia, formally European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EU NAVFOR Med), is a military operation of the European Union that was established as a consequence of the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks with the aim of neutralising established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean. The operational headquarters is located in Rome.

Sophia is a baby who was born on 24 August 2015 at 4.15am on board the German frigate Schleswig-Holstein, operating in the Central Mediterranean Sea as part of the EUNAVFOR MED Task Force. Born from a Somali mother who was rescued along with 453 migrants and disembarked on the evening on the same day in the harbour of Taranto. Sophia was named after the German ship dedicated to the Prussian princess Sophia of Schleswig-Holstein.

ICC submission calls for prosecution of EU and its Member States

A detailed legal submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2019 called for the prosecution of the European Union and its Member States for the deaths of thousands of migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean fleeing Libya.

The 245-page document calls for punitive action over the EU’s deterrence-based migration policy after 2014. The indictment is aimed at the EU and the member states that played a prominent role in the refugee crisis: Italy, Germany and France.

The two main authors of the submission were Juan Branco who formely worked at the ICC as well as at France’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Omer Shatz, an Israeli lawyer who teaches at Sciences Po university in Paris.

The allegation of “crimes against humanity” draws partially on internal papers from Frontex, that had warned that moving from the successful Italian rescue policy of Mare Nostrum could result in a “higher number of fatalities”.

The office of the prosecutor at the ICC is already investigating crimes in Libya but the main focus has been on the Libyan civil war, which erupted in 2011 and led to the removal of Muammar Gaddafi.