Italy urged to suspend cooperation with Libyan Coast Guard over human rights concerns

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights is asking Italy to suspend its cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard which result in the return of people intercepted at sea to Libya.

In a letter addressed to Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio, Commissioner Dunja Mijatović called on Italy to introduce human rights safeguards in future migration-related cooperation activities.

Mijatović recognised that discussions to improve human rights compliance were ongoing, but said that Italy had to acknowledge the realities currently prevailing on the ground in Libya. The country has been in the midst of a civil war since 2014, with the main factions being the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord and the House of Representatives, which had been elected in a 2014 election whose results were rejected by many factions.

In her letter, Mijatović pledged to continue to call for more solidarity from Council of Europe members with countries on the frontline of migration movements to Europe, and for better cooperation to ensure the effective preservation of life and the protection of human rights of those at sea.

In its reply, however, Italy argued that the reduction in the number of deaths at sea – from 2,853 in 2017 to 743 last year – justified the agreement, even though it recognised that there was room for improvement.

“Our overall objective is to guarantee better protection to migrants and asylum seekers in Libya and progressively replace the current system based on detention centres with new formulas, adhering to the principles of the rule of law, victim-centred and human rights oriented,” Italy’s permanent representative to the CoE Michele Giacomelli wrote.

Italy’s cooperation with Libya on asylum seekers has long been controversial, as it is often perceived to breach the international principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the return of people to places where they can be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment.

In a recent incident, the Libyan Coast Guard was alleged to have shot at a migrant who refused to disembark in Libya after the boat he was on was intercepted.