By Eric J. Lyman
The lawsuit filed by a group of Nigerian refugees who said Italy put their lives at risk and violated their human rights through its support and supply of Libyan marine officials is the first of its kind, and could set a precedent for similar cases in the future, analysts said.
The case is unique because it seeks damages from one country (Italy) for the actions of another (Libya), based on allegations of human rights violations. Analysts said it could set a precedent for similar cases in the future.
The Nigerians survived a treacherous crossing from Africa to Italy last year, a journey they charge was unnecessarily precarious because of Libya’s risky policy of trying to force refugee and migrant vessels back to African shores. The policy is part of Italy’s efforts to stem the tide of arrivals from poor and war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East.
Italy supports the Libyan Coast Guard financially and by supplying and helping to train Libyan officials. So far, the country has given Libya seven refurbished marine vessels, with three more to be delivered this year. Officials from the European Union, including some from Italy, have also trained around 200 Libyan Coast Guard officials.
More than 600,000 refugees have arrived in Italy since the start of 2014, though the rate of arrivals has dropped dramatically since Italy began working together with Libya last year.
“This is a painful story and one that is painful to me as an Italian,” retired Admiral Fabio Caffio, now a marine law fellow with the Institute of International Affairs, told Xinhua. “Unfortunately, these situations are seen as political issues, and not as something that can directly impact lives.”
Caffio and others said the acts violated the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects people from slavery, torture, or mortal danger.
In this case, two of the Nigerian plaintiffs said they were returned to Libya where they were held without charges for two months, with inadequate food and access to medical care before being returned to Nigeria against their will. The same day the Nigerians were rescued, Nov. 6. 2017, at least 20 other would-be refugees died at sea.
“The key fact is that these migrants were forced into an insecure situation in Libya, a country that is not a party to the European Convention on Human Rights,” Filippo Miraglia, vice-president of ARCI, the largest association promoting the rights of migrants, said in an interview.
The comments of the Italian and Libyan authorities are not available now.
The case is expected to take years to decide, but if Italy is found guilty it could face financial sanctions and would be forced to suspend its collaboration with Libyan officials.
The same European court found Italy guilty of abuses in 2012, but, according to Luca Marini, an international law expert at Rome’s La Sapienza University, that case was substantially different because it found Italian officials guilty of directly handing refugees to Libyan authorities. In the new case, Italy is being charged even though it was not directly involved.
“This case is much more complex because it directly involves only Libyan officials, who some believe may have been coached by Italians,” Marini told Xinhua. “The European Court of Justice will have to take into account the multiple parties involved and not just what happened.”
photo: African immigrants at Libya from google images